More Attacks on the Two-Thirds Vote

Nearly one month into the new fiscal year that began on July 1 there is growing concern that Democrat leaders will attempt an end-run around the Proposition 13 requirement that tax increases must be approved with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

The state faces a $19 billion budget deficit but instead of cutting waste and out-of-control spending Democrats are looking for schemes to increase taxes with a simple majority vote.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Democrats have tried an end-run around the state Constitution. In January 2009 they tried to pass billions in tax increases with a majority vote. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against these unconstitutional tax increases and almost immediately the Governor announced he would veto the plan.

We will be keeping a close watch on the budget and tax discussions going on in the Capitol and will be ready to defend Proposition 13 if legislators dream up other creative schemes to increase taxes without a two-thirds vote. Moreover it has not gone unnoticed that the Legislature has already approved a majority vote “tax swap” that for state budgetary purposes is on shaky legal footing.

But the most significant issue involving the two-thirds vote is of course the looming battle over Proposition 25. This measure claims that it will only impact the vote threshold for the state budget not the vote threshold for tax increases. Moreover as an enticement the proposal seeks to “punish” legislators by docking their pay for every day that the budget is late — a populist provision designed to give Prop 25 grassroots appeal. But if Prop 25 passes the only group who will be punished are the taxpayers themselves.

While claiming that it doesn’t affect the two-thirds vote for a tax hike a growing consensus among budget analysts and legal experts is that intentional or not Prop 25 would in fact lower this threshold. This is because Prop 25 creates and defines in the state Constitution a distinct type of bill — “bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill” — and states that such a bill may be passed by simple majority vote. Both the supporters and opponents of Prop 25 agree on this point and the supporters and opponents of Prop 25 also agree that if an appropriation is NOT included in such a bill and is not either an appropriation included in the budget bill or an appropriation for the public schools the appropriation will still require a 2/3rds vote to become law.

Because the term used by the drafters of Proposition 25 is “bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill” many have stated or assumed that such a bill can only include a single item of appropriation and not include a tax increase. Unfortunately for taxpayers this simply isn’t true.

Proposition 25 itself further defines the term “bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill” as being “bills identified as related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.” Proposition 25 does not prohibit any such bill from including a tax increase nor does any existing provision of the California Constitution prohibit a bill from including both an item of appropriation and a tax increase in the same measure.

Thus while the prefatory language of Prop 25 states that “it will not change Proposition 13’s property tax limitations in any way” the truth is that there is near certainty that it will change Prop 13’s two-thirds vote requirement for state tax hikes. For that reason we must call Prop 25 what it is: A direct assault on Prop 13.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.