In September, this column reported on the lawsuit against taxpayer and business groups brought by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature seeking to have the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act (TPA) removed from the November 2024 ballot.
The purpose of TPA is to restore key provisions of Prop 13 and other voter-approved ballot measures that gave taxpayers, not politicians, more say over when and how new tax revenue is raised. TPA is necessary because, over the past decade, the California courts have created massive loopholes and confusion in long-established tax law and policy. TPA closes those loopholes and provides new safeguards to increase accountability and transparency over how politicians spend our tax dollars. It is the only long term check and balance on a permanent two thirds supermajority progressive Legislature.
The reaction of California’s tax-and-spend progressives to the qualification of TPA is, as one would expect, shrill and hyperbolic. A massive misinformation campaign by the League of California Cities predicts that the passage of TPA would be an “end times” event. Of course, the League predicted the same thing in 1978 over Prop 13.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the voters of California don’t share the concerns of government bureaucrats and politicians over TPA. In fact, the more they hear about it, the more they are inclined to support it. (Given California’s outrageous tax burden, that shouldn’t be a surprise).
As support for TPA grows, so does the desperation of its detractors, which explains the effort by the governor and the Legislature to use the courts to knock TPA off the ballot. But as frequently happens in politics, groundless attacks on taxpayer rights tend to backfire. Now voters will hear even more about the measure’s key provisions, such as requiring all new state taxes passed by the Legislature to go on the ballot for voter approval. Voters will be happy to hear that TPA restores the two-thirds vote threshold for local special taxes, and that it clears up muddy definitions that allow taxes to be mislabeled as “fees.” Voters will also like TPA’s transparency requirement that ballot labels must not only state clearly that a tax increase is a tax increase, but also disclose how the money will be spent.
Last week, the campaign in support of TPA submitted their brief in response to the lawsuit. The Executive Committee of Californians for Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability consists of the leaders of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Business Roundtable, and the California Business Properties Association. The campaign’s co-chairs, Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Matthew Hargrove, president and CEO of the California Business Properties Association, issued the following statement:
“It is disheartening to see the legislature use taxpayer dollars to stifle the voice of the very people they are supposed to represent. Such actions contradict the foundational tenets of our democracy, where ‘all political power is inherent in the people,’ as stated in the California Constitution. The Court should reject this unprecedented and undemocratic action that is an insult to the voters of California.”
The statement went on to note that the Taxpayer Protection Act (TPA) is a legally qualified initiative, and that the lawsuit fails to articulate any compelling basis to strike it from the ballot. Moreover, the governor and legislature’s claim the TPA constitutes an impermissible constitutional “revision” is contrary to established legal precedent. A similar attack against Prop 13 was rejected in 1978.
At its core, the lawsuit is nothing more than the latest politically motivated attempt to keep the highly popular TPA off the ballot by taking the extreme action of denying voters their lawful right to amend the California Constitution. The legislature has already gone so far as to pass—ACA 13—which would, for the first time, take initiative power away from voters by demanding voter-backed measures play by a different set of rules at the ballot box. Not satisfied with that effort, this groundless lawsuit now asks the California Supreme Court to take the near-unprecedented act of removing a ballot measure before voters have their say.
For anyone who thinks that progressive politicians are truly concerned with “protecting democracy,” this lawsuit proves otherwise.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.