The Arizona Supreme Court has agreed with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and its companion organization, the American Tax Reform Movement, ruling that minority party legislators have standing to challenge a tax on hospitals that was approved by less than the two-thirds legislative vote required by Arizona law. In its December 31 ruling, the Court held, “passage of the bill by a simple majority vote effectively negated the plaintiff representatives’ votes and they, as a bloc, have therefore alleged a ‘particularized’ injury sufficient to confer standing.”
HJTA/ATRM submitted a friend of the court brief on behalf of taxpayers in this case.
“HJTA applauds the ruling of the Arizona Supreme Court and is relieved that a nearby sister state has not adopted a procedural rule that, if followed here in California, would threaten enforcement of Proposition 13,” said HJTA General Counsel Trevor Grimm.”
HJTA’s greatest concern is the preservation of Proposition 13. Proposition 13, similar to Arizona’s Proposition 108, includes a two-thirds legislative supermajority requirement for all new or increased state taxes. Supermajority requirements serve an important function in protecting the rights of political minorities by requiring a greater degree of legislative consensus before their rights can be redefined.
Despite this, here in California, as in Arizona, the majority party sometimes seeks to evade the supermajority requirement by attaching misleading labels to its levies. For example, HJTA is currently challenging California’s fire prevention “fee” on grounds that it is really a tax that needed two-thirds legislative approval.
Biggs v. Brewer was a case before the Arizona Supreme Court in which HJTA/ATRM filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief. The issue was whether a new “assessment” on hospitals to fund the expansion of healthcare was really a tax that needed, but did not receive, a two-thirds vote in the Legislature. The case was brought by a group of minority party legislators whose vote would have been sufficient to block supermajority approval.
The Arizona trial court dismissed the legislator’s claim for lack of standing. It held that determining the vote needed to pass legislation is the prerogative of the Legislature itself, and that neither taxpayers nor individual legislators have standing to second-guess the Legislature’s determination.
HJTA’s brief explained the similarities between California’s Proposition 13 and Arizona’s Proposition 108, and expressed concern that these provisions of our two states’ constitutions would be essentially unenforceable if no one had standing to sue when violations occur, thus rendering them ineffective.
The Arizona Supreme Court agreed with this position.