High Court Blocks Anti-Tax Measure from California Ballot

The California Supreme Court during a court session at the Ronald Reagan State Office Building in Los Angeles on April. 3, 2024. Photo by Damian Dovarganes, AP Photo

By Alexei Koseff CalMatters

The California Supreme Court sided with Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders in the Legislature on the constitutionality of a sweeping anti-tax measure, ruling today that it cannot go before voters in November.

The business community-sponsored initiative, formally known as the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, broadly aims to make it more challenging to raise taxes in California, including by requiring the Legislature to seek approval from the voters for any new or higher state tax.

Newsom and legislative leaders sued last fall to stop the measure, arguing that it amounts to an illegal attempt to revise the California Constitution and would impair essential government functions.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court agreed, ordering Secretary of State Shirley Weber to refrain from taking any steps to place the initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The proposed changes “are within the electorate’s prerogative to enact,” Justice Goodwin Liu wrote, “but because those changes would substantially alter our basic plan of government, the proposal cannot be enacted by initiative.”

Proponents, led by the California Business Roundtable, introduced the initiative to crack down on what they contend are loopholes created by legislators and court rulings that weakened previous voter-approved tax accountability measures and allowed an unelected administrative bureaucracy to flourish. It has been heavily supported by the real estate industry and a private ambulance company, which frequently battle local governments over taxes, fees and assessments to fund public services.

The measure would also increase the margin to pass a voter-initiated special tax at the local level, to two-thirds from a simple majority; restrict how officials can calculate the cost of fees that fund public services and programs; and reclassify some of those charges as taxes.

These changes could upend the operation of California government at every level, prohibiting administrative agencies from setting levies and requiring the Legislature or local governments to turn to the voters to adjust them. Cities, counties and the unions that represent their employees have raised alarms that the initiative would blow a hole in their budgets, threatening their ability to provide essential services.

Opponents argued in court during a hearing last month that, rather than simply amending tax law in the state constitution, this amounted to a fundamental restructuring of how government operates — a more substantial change that can only be proposed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or through a constitutional convention. The initiative’s proponents countered that the power of the legislative branch has always been shared with the public and urged the justices not to intervene in a political conflict that should be settled by voters.

Democratic lawmakers had already placed a competing measure on the November ballot designed to undermine the California Business Roundtable initiative.

The legislative measure flips the California Business Roundtable’s own higher standards around, requiring any changes to the threshold for approving state and local taxes pass by that same margin. So if voters adopt it, the tax initiative would need to secure two-thirds support from the electorate to become law, rather than a simple majority, a high hurdle for a statewide ballot measure.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.


Written by CalMatters

CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. (Articles are published in partnership with edhat.com)

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    • Very good points. I agree – there are a lot of times when we aren’t doing well for ourselves by throwing up a ballot initiative with a bunch of signatures gathered by a bunch of volunteers hanging at Costcos and Trader Joe’s looking for anyone who’ll sign something on the spot. We’ve seen it for years. I don’t sign those. Lots of folks do because on the spot it sounds good.

    • How is not letting the people vote on a ballot measure subverting democracy? Elected officials in the state legislature or locally should have some fiscal responsibility. Obviously the AG and governor were terrified of this proposal to go to such a drastic measure to keep it from the ballot. Same reason red states won’t put abortion on the ballot, they know they will lose. Government doesn’t belong in my Drs office and there needs to be dialogue before constantly reaching into my bank account.

      • It’s subverting our constitution to have the voters short circuit the legislature, and allows the wealthy to subvert democracy by spending on ads and social media to influence the gullible.

        If you don’t like how you are taxed and how it’s spent, you vote in different members of the legislature. So far, the majority doesn’t support crippling the government and its services.

  1. Bummer. It’ll be interesting to see what King Newsome does next though. He’s trying to work his way up the political ladder, and so far he’s had an easy go of it here in CA. Elsewhere? He’ll be up against it.

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