It is no secret that finding new ways to evade the expressed will of the people who by passing Propositions 13 and 218 overwhelmingly stated their conviction that they should have the final say on their own taxation is a cottage industry for lawyers toiling on behalf of cities counties and special districts.
However these efforts to nullify taxpayers’ rights have now moved to the state level with the introduction by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero a Salinas Democrat of AB 1260 legislation which could best be described as the "Tax Collector Protection Act." This bill introduced at the behest of the government agencies on the losing side of a recent Supreme Court decision which upheld the taxpayers’ right to challenge illegal fees would limit the time allowed for a taxpayer victim to object to an unlawful fee.
Under current law a fee payer can challenge an illegal fee within a year of any payment. AB 1260 would change the statute of limitations to 120 days from the date an illegal fee is first enacted. This would allow all manner of illegal fees — illegal because the agency lacks statutory authority to collect them or because they were not approved by the electorate or because they are discriminatory etc. — to become cemented in place for continued collection month after month forever if the agency can get away with the illegal fee for less than four months.
Allowing unconstitutional laws to become insulated from judicial review is bad public policy and for tax and fee payers it would be a disaster. The government more than any entity should be held accountable to the constitution. There is no justification for tying the hands of the courts so that they can’t provide a remedy when the government breaks the law.
Abusive taxes fees charges and assessments were the target of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sponsored Proposition 218 the Right to Vote on Taxes Act enthusiastically approved by voters in 1996. Prior to the passage of Proposition 218 governments could circumvent the tax limitations imposed by Proposition 13 by changing the word "tax" to "fee" "charge" or "assessment." Proposition 218 clarified the definition of these terms and provided specific procedures for payers of these charges to seek redress if these methods of extracting money from taxpayers’ wallets were misused.
AB 1260 would turn back the clock by limiting the taxpayer’s ability to challenge these charges. For someone skilled in the law and who is fully aware of an illegally imposed fee 120 days may seem sufficient time to respond but very few Californians fit into this category. Once the average taxpayer becomes suspicious that they are being abused by an illegal fee it may take time to research the issue to gain confirmation which if it involves requesting public records means waiting 15 days for the documents to be produced then to exhaust their administrative remedies such as filing a written claim and waiting 45 days for it to be acted upon and finally to obtain legal counsel so that appropriate filings can take place. This makes meeting a 120 day deadline to take action an unreasonable challenge.
To add insult to injury the self-serving officials behind AB 1260 are peddling it to the Legislature and the public as a "good government" measure. But if this is "good government" then Paris Hilton is a lawful driver. As close as it gets is that it is "good" for "government" insiders who want to impose new burdens on vulnerable taxpayers without being accountable.
Joel Fox my predecessor as president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association liked to say "The way we tax ourselves is a measure of our freedom." In a nation founded on a tax revolt taxpayers should never have to surrender to government their right to challenge an unlawful tax even if the tax is called a "fee" "charge" or "assessment."
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.