California effort would make it easier to pass tax increases

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, June 21, 2013

An effort halfway through the California statehouse would lower the voter threshold for approving local transportation-related tax questions.

In place since 1995, California law requires approval of two-thirds of voters in any city, county, or special district to benefit infrastructure improvements. Affected tax votes include property taxes and bonds.

The Assembly voted 54-25 to advance to the Senate a proposed amendment to the state constitution – ACA8 – that would drop the voter threshold from 66.67 percent to 55 percent.

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-San Fernando Valley, said he was inspired to bring the proposal to the statehouse following last fall’s narrow failure of Measure J in Los Angeles. The ballot question sought to permanently increase the local tax from one-half cent to one full cent for transportation work. It was defeated despite 66.53 percent voting in favor of the change. The question fell just short of the necessary two-thirds threshold.

Blumenfield said the change is needed to help communities throughout the state that have fallen far behind in their ability to repair local infrastructure.

“After the demise of redevelopment, the Legislature has not successfully provided communities with the tools to invest in their prosperity,” Blumenfield said in a news release. “If voters can choose to build a school with a 55 percent vote, why not roads, bridges, sewers, or fire stations?”

Critics say that lowering the voter threshold undermines the taxpayer protection that has been in place for nearly two decades.

The proposed amendment has moved to the Senate Rules Committee. Similar Senate versions – SCA4 and SCA8 – that would lower the voter threshold for vehicle fees, bonds and sales tax already are under consideration in the chamber.

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