When the word "Paris" is associated with taxpayer outrage it is usually due to junketing politicians jetting off to the France at public expense. But it was similarly sounding Perris California a Riverside County community of 50000 which became the center of taxpayer outrage last week when voters rejected an illegal property tax.
City officials in Perris whose nickname is "the skydiving capital of America" forgot their parachutes when they jumped at a chance to wring an additional $2 million from property owners through a per-parcel tax that they claimed could be passed with a simple majority contrary to the strict provisions of Proposition 13 which mandate a two-thirds vote.
Whether they were conniving or just plain clueless city council members’ failure to do an equipment check brought harm to their constituents regardless of the outcome of the vote. Had the measure passed the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association legal team would have swung into action and addressed multiple violations of law.
First the city was attempting to impose a majority vote parcel tax which is unconstitutional both under the uniformity of tax provision of the California Constitution (Article XIII Section 1) and Proposition 218 (Article XIII D Section 3). Second there was a companion advisory measure to get around the two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes. Third the city abused the emergency exception for general taxes under Prop. 218 in not complying with the election consolidation requirement. Fourth the city actually named the tax (including on the ballot label) a public safety tax — a special tax requiring a two-thirds vote — even though it was proposed as an unrestricted majority vote general tax.
All these violations left HJTA’s legal team asking the age old question: What were they thinking? The technical term for any lawsuit with this many meritorious claims is a called a "slam dunk."
After being stuck down by the courts all city officials would have been left with would have been a bill for court costs and for the special election which they would have passed on to taxpayers. Fortunately for Perris taxpayers voters were wearing their chutes as 60 percent rejected the proposed new tax. Unfortunately although the city will now avoid the expense of litigation the cost of the futile special election remains and this will no doubt be remembered by voters when current city council members face reelection.
Like most local governments during this economic downturn Perris is experiencing a decline in revenue. The problem is that those in government who are quick to solve their problem by reaching for taxpayers’ wallets fail to understand that they have less because their constituents have less to give. Unemployment is at 15 percent in Riverside County and few expect a quick turnaround. So it adds insult to injury when officials attempt to use illegal methods to extract more from already suffering taxpayers.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association would like to provide this gentle reminder to any other local government officials who are tempted to violate the clear provisions of the Jarvis sponsored Propositions 13 and 218: Our legal department is watching you.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Pr