Sen. Hertzberg Targets Homeowners With Higher Water and Sewer Rates

Storm_DrainIt’s no secret that tax-and-spend interests have hated Proposition 13 since its adoption by the voters in 1978. Immediately after passage, Prop. 13 was the target of numerous lawsuits and legislative proposals seeking to create loopholes that would allow government to grab more tax dollars from California citizens.

These constant attacks compelled taxpayer advocates to go back to the voters with multiple initiatives to preserve the letter and spirit of Prop. 13. These included Prop. 62 in 1986 (voter approval for local taxes); Prop. 218 (closing loopholes for local fees and so-called “benefit assessments”); and Prop. 26 (requiring “fees” to have some nexus to the benefits conferred on the fee payers).

However, the latest tax-grabber to treat homeowners as ATMs is state Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. If he gets his way, Californians will be spending a lot more on water and sewer service. He seeks to do away with the critical “cost of service” requirements for water rates as well as treat “stormwater runoff” (the rain that runs down street gutters) the same as “sewer service,” opening the door to virtually unlimited — and unvoted — sewer rates.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Lawmaker’s Word Games Could Send Your Money Down the Storm Drain

StormwaterYou might remember that about three years ago, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors proposed a new tax on property owners to pay for stormwater capture and cleanup.

There was supposed to be a mail-only election to approve the stormwater parcel tax, but it never happened.

Homeowners, businesses and school districts opposed the tax. Then there was public outrage over a deceptive mailing that so resembled junk mail that many people threw it away, not realizing the junky-looking flyer was their official notification of the proposed tax, or that it contained a form they needed to protest the tax hike.

People were just enraged, and the county supervisors dropped the matter. They didn’t even mail out the ballots.

Ever since Proposition 13 was passed overwhelmingly by fed-up taxpayers in 1978, local governments have been looking for ways around its ironclad requirement that new taxes must be approved by two-thirds of voters.

Some local governments renamed their new taxes “fees.” Voters tried to put a stop to that in 1996 by passing Proposition 218, the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act.” Then some local governments overcharged for services and used the extra money for other expenses. Voters fought back in 2010 by passing Proposition 26, the “Stop Hidden Taxes Initiative.”

But now in Sacramento, there’s a new deception in the works. It ought to be called the “Dictionary Gambit.”

A bill by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Sherman Oaks, would simply change the definition of “sewer service” so stormwater is included in it. That would allow local governments to charge property owners for stormwater management projects without voter approval.

The bill, SB 1298, is on the verge of passing in the state Assembly. It’s possible that in a matter of days it could be on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

The city of Glendora has already written a letter to the governor asking him to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

“We oppose SB 1298 because we strongly believe it violates the intent of Prop 218,” wrote Glendora mayor Gene Murabito, speaking for a unanimous City Council. “Citizens clearly voted to have the right to vote on taxes, charges, fees and assessments.”

California voters almost had a chance to vote on a proposal like Hertzberg’s bill. In December, groups representing cities, counties and water agencies filed a ballot initiative that would have amended the state constitution to allow new fees for stormwater management to be imposed without a vote of the people.

Guess what happened to it.

“The proponents of the initiative declined to move forward after doing polling research,” says the official Assembly analysis of SB 1298. But “this bill seeks to address with a majority vote bill” what the proposed constitutional amendment could only have accomplished with the approval of the voters.

Why is this even legal?

Certainly stormwater management is important for the environment and for the local water supply. It’s also expensive. One estimate put the cost at $20 billion over the next 20 years for L.A. County and the cities within it. …

In April, the L.A. County supervisors discussed paying for stormwater projects by asking developers to pay extra fees, or by asking voters to approve a new tax.

But if SB 1298 is signed into law, they won’t have to ask. Billions of dollars for stormwater management projects will be magically redefined into fees for sewer service. Property owners will have no choice but to pay those fees or sell their property. Taxpayers will have no opportunity to vote on it.

According to Hertzberg’s statement in the Assembly analysis of the bill, SB 1298 adds “missing definitions and direction on the interpretation of Proposition 218 while maintaining transparency and accountability.”

That’s not the way Glendora’s Murabito sees it. As he explained in his letter to Brown, “Proposition 218 was adopted by the voters of the state and any carve-out of services or areas from its oversight can only be done by the voters themselves and not through legislative process.”

That’s a definition of the principle of government by consent of the governed.

If you don’t consent to the redefining of billion-dollar stormwater projects as “sewer service,” this would be a good time to call your state representatives and the governor to let them know. The governor’s office can be reached by phone at 916-445-2841 or by fax at 916-558-3160, or look up your representatives at findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.

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Special Interests Look to Raid Your Wallet in 2016

TaxesIn 368 days, we will be voting for the next president of the United States. In very blue California, the outcome is not in doubt.  Nor is the party of our next U.S. Senator.

On the other hand, the statewide ballot measures will be a donnybrook as special interests with wads of campaign cash are looking to raid our wallets and to prevent citizens from authorizing the issuance of billions in debt on major public works projects.

The educational establishment, the teachers’ unions, and the building industry have placed a $9 billion general obligation school bond measure on the ballot. This will end up costing taxpayers an average of $500 million a year for the next 35 years, a total of $17.6 billion, including $8.6 billion in interest. The proceeds from these bonds will be used for new construction ($3 billion), modernization of K-12 public school facilities ($3 billion), charter schools ($1 billion) and California Community Colleges ($1 billion).

The “No Blank Checks Initiative” has also qualified for the ballot. This measure would require a public vote to approve any revenue bonds on state projects that exceed $2 billion. Unlike general obligation bonds that are serviced with our tax dollars, revenue bonds rely on the cash flow of the particular project which, in turn, relies on the fees paid by the citizens using the services of the particular project.

The provisions of this constitutional amendment would apply to Gov. Brown’s two legacy pet projects, the $68 billion high speed rail boondoggle connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco and the $15 billion Twin Tunnels that will convey hundreds of billions of gallons of water every year from the Sacramento River to the California Aqueduct that serves Southern California and to farms in the Central Valley.

While No Blank Checks only qualified for the ballot on November 2, the political establishment and business and labor groups are already trashing this initiative that will limit their ability to pick the pockets of the citizens of California unless they have our approval. The opposition to this citizen empowering amendment will no doubt devote huge resources to defeat this measure sponsored by Dean Cortopassi, a Stockton based farmer who opposes the Twin Tunnels.

We can also expect several other tax measures on the ballot, including efforts by the public sector unions to extend or make permanent the temporary tax increases imposed by Proposition 30 that was approved by 55 percent of the voters in November of 2012. This measure increased our sales tax by a quarter of a cent until December 31, 2018 and the marginal tax rate on higher incomes ($250,00 and up) until December 31, 2016.

Alternatively, State Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, is considering a proposal to extend the sales tax to include services in order to smooth out the revenue swings of our boom or bust tax system that relies heavily on upper income residents and a good stock market.  But under the guise of reform, Hertzberg wants to raise $10 billion in additional revenue for the State.  Otherwise, to use the $10 Billion Man’s own words, “it’s not worth the effort.”

But that’s not all folks!!!!

There is also an effort to increase our gas tax to fund the $59 billion repair bill for our highways as designated funds were diverted by our free spending Legislature to pay for ever increasing personnel costs, including ballooning pension contributions.

Other political insiders and union leaders are pushing for a “Split Roll” ballot measure where Proposition 13 would not apply to commercial properties, raising an estimated $9 billion for local governments. Of course, these proponents will fail to mention that these additional taxes will be passed along to us through higher prices for goods and services.

In Los Angeles County, Metro and the Board of Supervisors are preparing to place on the ballot yet another half cent increase in our sales tax to pay for transportation projects. Mayor Garcetti has endorsed this tax increase, in large part because the Local Return provision will kick back 25 percent of the tax revenue to our profligate city which, despite huge increases in tax revenues, still has not eliminated its Structural Deficit or made an effort to Live Within Its Means.

Prepare for barrage of propaganda and a heavily financed assault on our wallets by the fiscally irresponsible politicians, the public sector unions, self-serving special interests, and their ring kissing cronies. But until the city, county and state reform their finances and inefficient operations, we need to reject their efforts to pick our pockets.

After all, we are already one the highest taxed states in the nation, right up there with financial basket cases like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

We are not striving to be Number One. Just Say No.

Originally published by CityWatch.org

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and a member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds — www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com)

Top 5 Taxes You May See on the 2016 Ballot

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18514272In June 2014, I wrote a column forecasting the tax increase measures that might be on the November 2016 ballot given the conversations going on at the time. I updated the list in March of this year. It’s time for another update, this one prompted by an answer to a question Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León gave to Comstock’s Magazine.

The pro tem was asked where he stood on the change to Proposition 13 to separate commercial property from residential property. De León responded that he had no position on the plan at present but added: “I do think that revenue enhancement measures deserve a very serious debate, whether it’s a continuance or some variance of Proposition 30 or some other proposal.”

While the legislature gets together next week with the opportunity to have that debate, most likely any tax measure on the 2016 ballot will come via the initiative process.

As I wrote previously, situations and strategies change. What’s being discussed most heavily today is not necessarily what will be pushed to the ballot for voters to decide in 2016.

  • OIL SEVERANCE TAX

As reported previously, whether the oil severance tax initiative moves forward depends on one man – hedge fund billionaire and NextGen president, Tom Steyer. Recently, Steyer took the focus away from the oil severance tax and held a press conference supporting a bill for more transparency about oil company revenues. During the press conference, he suggested if the legislature did not act on a transparency bill he may take one to the ballot via initiative. While Steyer certainly has the ability to attempt more than one initiative at the same time, history shows that doesn’t always work out so well. (See John Van de Kamp 1990.) With the potential of other tax measures on the ballot, there seems to be less emphasis moving forward with the oil severance tax. It barely hangs on the list at number 5.

  • SERVICE TAXES

While Senator Bob Hertzberg’s plan was mentioned in previous columns, it was never ranked. However, as Hertzberg works to build support for his plan, which he says will tie the tax system more closely to the current state economy, the idea of many different taxes potentially appearing on the ballot may present an opening for Hertzberg. He could argue that his answer to California’s tax system flaws is a better overall fix than other proposals. And, remember, he also has potential financial support from Nicolas Berggreun’s Think Long Committee.

  • SPLIT ROLL

The grassroots/public union effort to push a split roll is still ongoing. Whether the big money is ready to commit to this approach is uncertain. Since the last rankings a second property tax surcharge on all properties that are assessed on the property tax rolls at $3 million and more has been filed. While this measure doesn’t seem to have the support to move into the top 5, it complicates the split roll position. Some have suggested that the split roll is being pushed to convince the school establishment that any tax measure that reaches the ballot should provide for more than schools. Whether for leverage or an earnest effort to achieve a split roll property tax, there is a decent chance the measure will be filed.

  • CIGARETTE TAX

The cigarette tax holds in the second position although it is clawing to gain the top spot. An initiative has already been filed. However, there will be a lot of talk in the Special Session on Medi-Cal reform perhaps including a cigarette tax increase to help fill the Medi-Cal funding hole. If the legislative session ends with no cigarette tax increase, the chance that such a tax will make the ballot probably jump this one to number one.

  • EXTENSION OF PROPOSITION 30

Extending or slightly changing Prop. 30 and continuing it holds the top spot because many supporters of a tax increase believe this type of measure may be the easiest one to pass. However, when the Public Policy Institute of California asked Likely Voters in May if they supported the extension of Proposition 30, 46 percent said yes, 30 percent said no. Not strong numbers. But all you need to know about a Prop 30 extension remaining the most likely tax measure you’ll see on the November 2016 ballot is the answer Senator de León gave above. Instead of talking about a change to Prop. 13 when questioned, he specifically cited the possibility of continuing Prop. 30. At this time it remains number 1.

Follow Joel Fox on Twitter @1JoelFox1