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So Much for California’s Big November Anti-Tax Initiative

U.S.So Much for California’s Big November Anti-Tax Initiative

Californians are used to big political fights over ballot measures, but the fights don’t usually end like this. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court unexpectedly cut short a gathering war over one of the most sweeping anti-tax proposals since the 1970s, before voters could even consider it.

The ballot measure, the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, has been a flashpoint in Sacramento for months. It was scheduled to go before voters in November. If enacted, it would have made all kinds of taxes and fees in the state — including those imposed by local governments and agencies — much more difficult to raise.

The business and anti-tax groups that gathered more than a million signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot promised that it would close loopholes and improve transparency. State officials sued, arguing that the measure would fundamentally and illegally revise the State Constitution and that it would gum up even changes in library fines.

Under California’s Constitution, state tax increases already must clear a higher bar than other kinds of legislation: They require approval by two-thirds majorities in each chamber of the Legislature. But many state fees that fund public services are not classified as taxes and can be approved administratively by state boards and agencies. And many local assessments need only a simple majority of local voters or of local boards and councils.

The proposed initiative would have required that any state tax increases be approved not only by supermajorities in the Legislature but also by a majority of the state’s voters directly. Fee increases that are now approved by state agencies and boards would also require legislative approval. Local special taxes would have to be approved by a two-thirds supermajority of voters. And local fee increases would require a local government vote.

The measure also would have retroactively canceled any tax and fee increases during the past two years that failed to comply with the new rules, unless voters and lawmakers re-approved them over the next 12 months.

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