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Senate Governance and Finance Committee:
Panel Approves Six Measures to Lower Vote Thresholds for Local Taxes

The Senate Governance and Finance Committee approved six measures May 15 that seek to lower vote thresholds for passage of local tax measures. All of the measures passed on party-line votes, with the committee’s five Democrats in support, and all now go to the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee.

The measures are similar, in that all would amend Proposition 13 to lower the public vote threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent for local taxes, but they address different types of taxes (albeit with a great deal of overlap):

CalTax Fiscal Policy Director Therese Twomey testified against the first special tax measure to come before the committee, and noted that her opposition applied to all of the other measures, as well. She noted that California has 58 counties, several hundred cities, and more than 3,000 special districts, and that paving the way for all these districts to impose more taxes would create “a complicated, multi-layered local tax system … and because special districts overlap each other, the same taxpayer may be assessed multiple taxes simultaneously by the various special districts.”

Addressing the proponents who argued for a lower vote threshold because they had supported taxes that narrowly failed to reach the two-thirds mark, a representative of the California Farm Bureau Federation said, “Just because you lose a close game doesn’t mean you change the rules.”

Senators Bill Emmerson and Steve Knight criticized Democrats for ignoring the will of the voters, who in 2010 approved Proposition 26 in support of the two-thirds threshold for taxes. Senator Knight also questioned the need for lowering vote thresholds, stating that the majority of local taxes are approved under the current structure. “Do we have a scarcity of taxes in California?” he asked.

May 17, 2013
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