Proposition 13 is the original victim of ‘fake news’

prop 13As Proposition 13 approaches its 39th birthday, it is still subject to the same dishonest attacks in the media that were used against it when it was on the ballot in 1978. Proposition 13 was one of the first victims of “fake news.”

“The bigwigs in labor and business went all out to defeat 13,” said its principle author, Howard Jarvis. “They tried to outdo one another in issuing doomsday prophecies about what passage of 13 would mean.” The media slavishly supported the exaggerated and dishonest claims, often endorsing them through editorials and by giving prominent placement to negative stories on the tax revolt.

The politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and government agencies from top to bottom weighed in. Here is a typical example: Before the election, Alameda County Transit told the public that passage of Prop. 13 would result in the termination of 80 percent of its 2,000 employees. Two months later, the Fremont-Newark Argus reported on the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 13, “To date, no one in the district has been laid off and officials now believe there will be no massive layoffs.” The paper added that three local fire districts that anticipated losing one-half to three-fourths of its staff, had not lost a single firefighter to Prop. 13.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Special Districts: Hiding in Plain Sight

Los Angeles Metro TransitSpecial districts in California are the unnoticed variant of local government entities. Although they spend over $42 billion annually, most taxpayers don’t give these ubiquitous agencies much thought. They vary from modest vector control districts to behemoths like the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit authority, an agency that has a billion-dollar budget and, despite declining ridership, continues efforts to suck ever more pennies from every dollar spent in Los Angeles County.

The problem with these semi-autonomous agencies is that it is extremely difficult to determine whether or not taxpayers are receiving good value for every one of the billions of dollars being spent by agencies that, in many cases, are governed by unelected political appointees. Even when these boards are directly elected, many special districts do not receive the same level of scrutiny as do city and county governments.

Most taxpayers support local control, but they also want to see local governments and special districts maintain maximum transparency, follow the Brown Act and post important fiscal information on their websites. This information is a valuable asset to those who want to look over the shoulders of elected officials and bureaucrats to make certain that funds are appropriately spent. Sadly, this information is not always readily available and accountability is lacking.

While some agencies may willfully violate the law, in many instances, illegal actions are simply oversights. But because these districts tend to operate “under the radar” improper procedures may be overlooked for years. For example, in 2014 it was discovered that a fire district was illegally collecting tax proceeds from property owners outside the district boundaries and that practice had been ongoing for several years. It took a special act of the Legislature to reimburse property owners for the illegal taxes they had paid. With greater transparency, this problem would likely have been avoided.

In addition to errors that go uncorrected due to secretive management practices, many of these agencies are hoarding vast quantities of cash. The large reserves are often in amounts that are in multiples of a district’s annual budget and not justified by serious plans for major capital investment with a realistic timeline for construction.

Adding insult to injury, despite the fact that most are in a solid financial position, special districts have been uniting to lobby for higher taxes. The California Special Districts Association, as well as other local government associations, has ramped up efforts to eliminate Proposition 13’s two-thirds vote requirement for approval of new taxes for infrastructure improvements.

Clearly, special districts deserve to be noticed both for the worthwhile services they provide as well as their potential for mischief at taxpayers’ expense. No longer should these agencies be allowed to hide in plain site.

In dealing with special districts, good, bad and indifferent, taxpayers’ and service users’ most powerful tool is awareness. These agencies control billions of dollars and taxpayers have the right to demand accountability. While local control should remain the objective, the Legislature can help by strengthening guidelines on the maintenance of reserve funds, which for many districts greatly exceed any potential need, as well as mandating periodic reporting and publication of financial reports on line.

Taxpayers should also take heart from knowing that special districts are getting renewed scrutiny from oversight agencies. Last week, the California Commission for State Government Organization and Economy, also known as the Little Hoover Commission, held hearings on some of the perceived abuses by California’s myriad special districts. The Commission specifically requested testimony from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on several issues including the practice of many districts to hoard taxpayer dollars.

Enhanced oversight of special districts can deter some of the well documented instances of bad behavior reported by the Little Hoover Commission and other investigative interests. Whether that oversight comes from taxpayer groups, government oversight agencies, the media or individual taxpayers, it is especially important to drag these often unknown agencies into the sunlight so that citizens can more clearly see what they are doing and how they are spending our money.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

Pay Attention, Taxpayers – Local Officials Are After Your Wallets

tax signIf public attention is being drawn to national politics and the presidential race, there is a group of local officials who are thrilled. They have plans for the contents of taxpayers’ wallets and they would prefer to fly under the radar. The less voters pay attention, the greater the chance they will be able to pass local school bonds, which raise property taxes. Voters need to be alert. If past general elections are any indication, we will be facing several hundred local school bonds and additional tax measures in November.

August 12 is the deadline for officials to approve local measures for the November ballot. Consultants — usually paid by firms that expect to do business with the school district once a new bond is approved — advise local education officials not to publicize the bond election to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running a stealth campaign, communicating only with administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school. Part of this strategy is waiting until the last possible minute to approve the new bond measure, giving potential opponents less time to organize and respond.

Once a bond measure is approved, critics may have no more than a week to submit an argument in opposition. And this timeline is critical because the number one tool for defeating a bond measure is the argument against that will appear in the ballot pamphlet.

It is somewhat ironic that school boards work so hard to keep voters in the dark when the vast majority of taxpayers are supportive of education and favor students having decent facilities in which to learn. However, ever since a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires got together in 2000 and spent almost $35 million on a successful campaign to pass Proposition 39, which lowered the longstanding requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass school bonds to just 55 percent, the goal of providing good value for taxpayers’ dollars has all but disappeared.

In spite of, and perhaps because of, efforts by the wealthy elite to stack the deck against local taxpayers, these bonds deserve to be carefully evaluated, and if they fall short, opposition is justified. Voters have a right to know that a bond will place a lien against homes for as long as 40 years to guarantee repayment that, once interest is calculated, will cost at least double its face value.

HJTA recommends determining in advance if your school or community college district is considering placing a bond on the ballot by calling school district administrative offices. They should be able to tell you the agenda for upcoming board meetings. Upcoming board agendas should also be posted on the district website.

If you learn that a bond will be considered, alert friends and neighbors to the fact that property taxes may be going up and encourage them to join you in attending the local board meetings at which the bond is discussed. Take advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to express your concerns and objections.

If your school district decides to place a bond on the ballot, start by contacting the clerk of the school board to obtain the written rules covering requirements for submitting ballot arguments for publication in the voter information pamphlet that will be sent to all voters in the district. This argument should focus on the facts, including the total cost of the bond and the fact that it will raise property taxes for homeowners, and renters are likely to see increases in rents if the measure passes. It is certain that this is information that will go purposely unmentioned by bond promoters.

Once an argument has been submitted, taxpayers can begin work on getting the word out to voters in the community.  These measures can be defeated and hard work pays off.

For more information on opposing local bond and tax measures, please visit the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

Concealed Transparency: Legislature Tries to Fool the Public Again

TransparencyYou might have heard some news lately about legislative transparency, referring to efforts to subject what goes on in the California Legislature to meaningful public scrutiny. One headline actually read “California Senate Approves Measure Requiring More Transparency.” While an average citizen might rejoice at this news, they should be cognizant of what Paul Harvey used to characterize as “the rest of the story.”

Fact is, the California Legislature has absolutely no interest in exposing to public scrutiny how it does business. Indeed, the only reason lawmakers have introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 14 is to try to force the proponents of a much stronger ballot measure to the bargaining table in an effort to dilute the impact of this genuine reform. It is our hope that the proponents of the real transparency measure, the California Legislature Transparency Act, decline the invitation.

On the surface, lawmakers’ SCA 14 doesn’t look too bad. It would require that bills be publicly available for 72 hours before they can be taken up for a vote and that visual recordings of all legislative proceedings be posted online. These are reforms that Californians have wanted for a long time.

So what has spurred the Legislature to pursue this needed reform? Have they suddenly turned a new leaf and actually desire to disclose to Californians what has, up to now, been transacted in secrecy and obfuscation? Hardly. They are looking down the gun barrel of a proposed initiative which gathered more than a million signatures and is on the verge of qualifying for the November ballot. Sponsored and financed by wealthy reformer Charles Munger, Jr., its requirement that bills be in print for 72 hours is airtight while the Legislature’s proposal has so many holes it resembles Swiss cheese.

We’ve seen the drill before. Citizens will clamor for reform but be rebuffed repeatedly by the Legislature. Then, someone puts a proposition on the ballot to achieve the desired results. Only then, does the Legislature find religion and admit there’s a problem.

Recall 1978. With homeowners angry, frustrated and scared of being taxed out of their homes, Howard Jarvis proposes real property tax reform in the form of Proposition 13. At first, the Legislature derides the effort and can’t fathom the notion that voters actually would support it. That is, until they start hearing from their constituents and seeing the polls. Only then did the California Legislature hurriedly place a very weak alternative (designated as Proposition 8) on the ballot. But voters would have none of it. By a 66 percent margin they effectively told the Legislature thanks, but no thanks.

We strongly suspect that a similar message will be sent to the Legislature in the event that two competing transparency measures appear on the ballot this November.

This piece was originally published by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Budget Deception: Weird Accounting Diminishes Accountability

BudgetThis week, after reaching agreement with Gov. Brown, the California Legislature will pass the state budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. In so doing, it will meet its Constitutional deadline of June 15th.

A few weeks ago, this column attempted to provide some clarity to ordinary citizen taxpayers on basic state budget issues. This included an explanation of the difference between “general fund” expenditures and “special fund” expenditures. The column also reviewed California’s higher than average level of taxation and its legendary wasteful practices.

Those budget issues are confusing enough but there is something else going on that confounds even those of us who have at least some familiarity with government finance. Specifically, California has manipulated accounting rules that are, at best, confusing and, at worse, intended to conceal the true condition of state finances.

For most folks, figuring out the family finances isn’t all that difficult. Most people have a relatively stable and predictable amount of income they can spend and, on the flip side, they have a pretty good grasp of their expenses. Of course, even the best laid plans can be thrown off with the layoff of a breadwinner or, on the positive side, an unexpected bonus or inheritance.

But with government, predicting revenue can be tricky. Given this unpredictability, one would think that the state would want to base its accounting decisions on best practices. But that isn’t the case at all. Without going into all the wonkish details, the Department of Finance uses various “accrual” techniques to attribute revenue, not to the year in which it was received, but rather to a previous or future fiscal year depending on what political ends the administration seeks to achieve. Venerable Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters calls this “hide the pea” accounting and even the Legislature’s own Legislative Analyst has criticized the practice.

For all the funky accounting on the revenue side, it is much worse on the spending side. Here, under proper “accrual” rules, California should be counting the massive amount of debt we’re racking up differently. But with manipulative accounting, the state can actually spend more money than it receives in a given year and still report a budget surplus. This debt, as it relates to public employee pension obligations, is nothing more than spending tomorrow’s money today. But if it is spending money today, it should be counted as such.

David Crane is a Lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University and president of Govern For California who has written extensively on California’s deceptive accounting practices. He points out that proper accounting could have stopped the largest non-voter-approved debt issuance in California history. That 1999 debt was not a bond. Rather, it was retroactive pension increase for state employees. Had that cost been “booked” the way businesses account for future liabilities, the legislature may very well have thought twice about undertaking such a huge financial burden.

The good news is that the days of deceptive government accounting may be numbered. The Governmental Accounting Standards Board has, for the last several years, been forcing government entities to finally begin reporting pension obligations and “Other Post-Employment Benefits” in a way that is both more honest and transparent. Also, the California Legislature now has as a member Senator John Moorlach, a no-nonsense accountant who predicted the Orange County bankruptcy several years ago. He, like Crane, is shining a light on California’s budgetary shenanigans. With a looming downturn in the economy, this enhanced transparency will be critical.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

What Has Howard Jarvis Done for Me Lately?

Howard-JarvisMany of those under 50 do not remember tax revolt leader Howard Jarvis, who passed away 30 years ago, and yet, perhaps unknowingly, they are benefiting from his legacy. Proposition 13, which limits property taxes and allows local voters to have the final say on new taxes, was Howard’s gift to all Californians.

By limiting annual increases, Proposition 13 makes property taxes predictable from year to year. This doesn’t just benefit senior citizen homeowners on fixed incomes who worry about losing their homes to the tax collector. It benefits all homeowners. For example, a family who bought their home just five years ago in 2011, at the typical price that year of $286,000, has already seen significant tax savings. Today, the median sales price is close to $509,000 according to the California Association of Realtors. That’s a 79 percent increase. Under the property tax system that preceded Proposition 13, which was based on current value, the family who bought their home in 2011, would see their property taxes nearly double in a few short years.

Without Proposition 13, that family who struggled to buy a home in the first place, would find themselves struggling to keep their house in an overheated real estate market. Because of Proposition 13, which limits annual assessed value increases to two percent and then applies a tax rate of one percent to the total, the family will pay $3,084 this year, not $5,090, which would be the case if there were no limit on annual increases.

But even this example understates the importance of Proposition 13 to the average property owner. You see, before Proposition 13 imposed a one percent tax rate, the statewide average was 2.6 percent — in some counties it was as high as four percent. So, without Proposition 13, our recent home buying family would actually be paying $13,234 in annual taxes.

The old system guaranteed constant increasing revenue to government but did not take into consideration property owners’ ability to pay.  Even when home values declined, there was no relief for taxpayers because county boards of supervisors, city councils and local special districts could arbitrarily raise the tax rate to raise revenue.

Proposition 13 was designed to make property ownership secure for all Californians. But Howard Jarvis also wanted to make sure that the Legislature, which refused to provide tax relief when average folks were losing their homes, did not come back with new ways to punish taxpayers. The measure also requires a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers to increase state taxes and provides voters the final say on new local taxes.

Government employee unions, left wing progressives and even crony capitalists who all opposed Proposition 13 when it was on the ballot, are still complaining. They point to all the money that government has been denied because of Proposition 13 and claim that problems ranging from poverty to academic performance are due to the measure’s passage. Of course, these accusations fly in the face of facts. Even with Proposition 13, California ranks in the top 6 of all 50 states in per capital tax burden, and, according to the Department of Labor, we have the highest paid state and local employees. Add to this, after adjusting for inflation, we spend more money per pupil than prior to Proposition 13.

Those who do not remember the Tax Revolt of 1978, will be interested to know that much of the voter anger that fueled the passage of Proposition 13 was directed at insiders who benefited from the status quo. This frustration with members of the political class and their powerful special interest allies is very similar to what we are seeing in America, today.

After the passage of Proposition 13, Time Magazine featured Howard Jarvis shaking his fist on the cover of their June 19, 1978 issue. Howard went on to chronicle his 16-year effort to reform taxes in his book, I’m Mad as Hell. If he were with us today, he would be the foremost critic of government that is run for the benefit of insiders and ignores the concerns of average citizens, like those who lived in fear of losing their homes before Proposition 13.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

In Four Weeks, Show Politicians You Care

Howard-JarvisIt’s election season and the media has made certain that voters’ attention has been focused on the presidential primaries. But there are hundreds of state and local races, critical to our future that garner very little media attention. On June 7, California Primary voters will take the first step in selecting those candidates who will be elected in November.

Candidates for Congress, the Legislature, county boards of supervisors, city councils, and school boards will become the officials who will have a great say over the caliber of service government provides and the quality of life for all. Some office seekers will be self-serving, interested in being somebody important. Others will genuinely want to accomplish something positive for their constituents. Some will want to provide good value for taxpayers’ dollars, while others will become beholden to special interests who benefit from higher taxes and more spending.

Deciding who is whom, is the challenge.

Most of us will never meet the presidential candidates, but the opportunities to meet and size up local candidates are fairly plentiful as they strive to be heard and to distinguish themselves from their opponents.

By now, it is clear that there is a lot of anger and frustration throughout our nation and our state over the performance of government. But keep in mind that, we, the voters, have the power to make changes.

Howard Jarvis, the father of the 1978 tax revolt, used to say that if we don’t like the direction of our government or elected officials, it is up to us to work together and use our votes to make changes.

The Primary Election is just four weeks away and it is time to think about our options and to take action to make sure our friends, our family and our colleagues are registered to vote and are informed of what is at stake.

In thousands of appearances all over the state during the Proposition 13 campaign Howard delivered the following message: The people of California are the government. The people we elect are not the bosses; we are. The elected officials are just temporary employees and this is your chance to tell them you’re fed up with their record of “Tax, tax, tax; spend, spend, spend; reelect, reelect, reelect.”

Howard would warn that most legislators seek to pass legislation and appropriate money for the simple purpose of getting themselves reelected. Further, he noted that government power comes from the ignorance of the governed whom the politicians and bureaucrats have set out to discourage from participating in the political process – the people in power would be just as happy if the people they rule didn’t even bother to vote.

And Howard Jarvis had a pithy comment that seems especially appropriate today: Only the knowledge that the people care will keep the politicians honest.

We can show the politicians we care by making sure all our contacts are registered to vote and they cast ballots. Registration information can be obtained from your county registrar of voters or you may register online at the California Secretary of State’s website. Remember vote by mail ballots will be in mail boxes in just a few days. Let’s get out and vote.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

3 Bills in Legislature That Will Actually Benefit Californians

CA-legislatureThose who value liberty, good government and a reasonable level of taxation have a lot to complain about if they are citizens of California. Not only do we have one of the highest tax burdens in America, we rate very poorly in term of efficient and effective governance as well as transparency. Those of us who point out the state’s shortcomings are labeled as contrarian, “declinists” or pessimists by state politicians, including our governor.

And let’s not forget about corruption. Just a couple of years ago, the California Senate actually had a higher arrest rate than the general population of California. Because of all the negative press, it is no wonder that that the public believes that most of what the California Legislature does is self-serving.

Although there is more than sufficient justification to criticize California’s political system (and especially its Legislature), for the sake of fairness, we should take special notice when our politicians do the right thing. For example, every so often bills are introduced that cut against the stereotype by providing genuine benefit to average folks.

Interestingly, although the California Legislature is fairly left-leaning, sometimes opportunities present themselves for a taxpayer group like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to work with legislators from both sides of the aisle to do good for average citizens. This year, HJTA has sponsored three separate legislative proposals in 2016 that have been well received in the Capitol.

The first, Assembly Bill 1891, would provide property tax relief for seniors. Currently, seniors over the age of 65 in most school districts can file for an exemption from education parcel taxes. However, many school districts require an application for exemption to be filed every year. AB1891 simply states that seniors only need to fill out the opt-out paperwork one time to be permanently exempt from paying a parcel tax.

HJTA is also the co-sponsor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, by Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown. Among its numerous positive provisions, ACA 6 will provide property tax savings for seniors in their retirement years. The law today allows married seniors over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their home to a property of equal or lesser value in the same county once in retirement. As good as this law is, it needs to be expanded. For instance, if a spouse were to divorce and remarry, that property owner would not be able to use their base value transfer exemption. Property owners are also out of luck if they do a base value transfer, then decide to move again a few years later. They would be forced to pay the full market value property taxes on a new home. ACA 6 allows for married couples to transfer their base value twice. This will provide couples increased flexibility to sell their home to move closer to children or grandchildren. If approved out of the Legislature, ACA 6 will go to the statewide ballot for voters to approve in November.

Assemblyman James Gallagher has introduced the third HJTA sponsored bill, AB2801. This bill increases transparency for purposes of Proposition 218 protests. Approved by voters in 1996, Proposition 218 allows for water, sewer and refuse rate increases to be approved or rejected via a written protest process. Protests can either be mailed in, or announced at the public hearing. AB2801 simply requires that protests will be retained for two years so taxpayers can review them after the hearing.

As may be apparent, these three bills do not reflect huge policy shifts, such as a large tax cut or a complete reorganization of state government. However, they do make California a better place for homeowners and taxpayers. And for that we can be grateful.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Bill Would Ban Legislators From Accepting Lavish Trips From Lobbyists

For average Californians, the news out of Sacramento is seldom good.

Finding ways to increase the tax burden, eliminate the taxpayer protections in Proposition 13 and increasing the cost of living seem to be the preoccupation of most members of the Legislature. The majority of bills that are introduced are designed to give special interests an advantage over their competitors and/or taxpayers.

To illustrate how this can work, let’s look at an issue state regulators faced some years ago. The burning public policy question was whether or not dog groomers should be allowed to clean dogs’ teeth. No, seriously. Veterinarians argued that this should be their exclusive purview because they can perform this procedure more “safely.” Dog groomers claimed this was just an attempt by animal doctors to eliminate competition so they could increase the cost to consumers, who, because of higher prices, might be less attentive to their pets’ needs.

Perhaps only the dogs know who was right, but the point is that much of what passes for activity in our state capitol is in the picking between winners and losers, whether it’s insurance companies versus trial lawyers, school choice advocates versus unions, doctors versus chiropractic providers, etc., ad nauseam. More often than not, the winners are not those with the best argument but, instead, are those with the most political clout. And of course having clout includes the ability to provide generous campaign contributions, turn out voters and hire the most persuasive lobbyists.  This helps explain why the losers are usually average folks.

ShakingHandsWithMoneyStill, there are some regulations over lobbying activity that are designed to give the illusion of fairness. For example, there are limitations on gifts that lawmakers can accept from lobbyists. However, there remains a huge loophole that allows special interests to dominate individual lawmaker’s attention for days at a time. This loophole is free luxury vacations provided to legislators, that are disguised as seminars or conferences.

Every year members of the Legislature are whisked off to exotic locales – Hawaii is a favorite — where they enjoy complimentary luxury lodging and dining, often overlaid by activities like golfing, tennis and snorkeling. In return, the lawmakers are expected to attend brief meetings. Sponsors assure the public that these trips are opportunities for lawmakers to learn more about important issues.

Others call these junkets a form of legalized bribery. They are designed to allow special interest lobbyists to have exclusive call on lawmakers’ attention, against which the officials’ small fry constituents cannot afford to compete.

Enter Assemblywoman Patty Lopez who would ban legislative junkets funded by interest groups. Her Assembly Bill 2840 would prohibit non-profit organizations (set up by lobbying interests) from providing lawmakers with free transportation, lodging and food.

Assemblywoman Lopez summarized the issue by saying “They’re not going to learn anything by golfing with lobbyists in Maui.”

Will Lopez’s colleagues approve her reform legislation intended to reduce the influence of special interest lobbyists by forcing lawmakers to give up junkets? You’d be better off betting on the snowball.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Defending against tax increases

TaxesIn its 38-year history, Proposition 13 has been under constant assault. The attacks have come from the Legislature, the media and especially the courts. After initially being upheld against a myriad of constitutional challenges, the California Supreme Court then began punching loopholes in the landmark tax reform measure.

Prop. 13 was intended, first and foremost, to limit out-of-control property tax increases that were forcing tens of thousands of Californians out of their homes. It did this by imposing a 1 percent cap on the base property tax known as the ad valorem tax and limiting subsequent increases to 2 percent annually. But Howard Jarvis and the voters were well aware how creative local governments could be in dreaming up new kinds of taxes to make up for the tax relief conferred on property owners by Prop. 13. For that reason, it also imposed a two-thirds vote requirement on other local taxes. Today, because of court rulings and other constitutional taxpayer protections — including Proposition 218, sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — local taxes going into a general fund require a simple majority vote of the electorate while taxes intended for special purposes require a two-thirds vote.

The two-thirds vote is important because taxation is government’s most draconian power and as a prerequisite to its exercise the constitution requires a higher degree of consensus. Constitutionally imposed two-thirds vote requirements are common. The United States Constitution, for example, mandates supermajority votes in a dozen instances.

Not surprisingly, local governments and tax-receiving interests detest the two-thirds voter requirement as a burdensome impediment to their efforts to extract ever more tax dollars from local citizens. But the tax-and-spend crowd need to be reminded that one definition of democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

According to Prop. 13 detractors and some media reports, a recent Court of Appeal decision calls into question the viability of the two-thirds vote requirement. While the decision contains some troubling language, some of the commentary has significantly overstated the scope of that ruling.

The decision which is drawing so much attention is California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland and in determining this ruling’s impact on Proposition 13, it is important to note how the court itself defined the issues: “The issues raised here [are] whether the imposition of the [cannabis] Initiative’s $75,000 fee is a tax or a fee and whether pursuant to [Proposition 218] the Initiative must be placed on a special election ballot.” Glaringly absent is any mention of the two-thirds voter requirement imposed by Prop. 13.

Early in all attorneys’ legal training, we hear the maxim, “cases are not authority for matters not considered therein.” Nowhere in the CCC v. Upland decision did the court say that a local initiative can avoid the two-thirds vote requirement for the imposition of a tax.

Nonetheless, there is troubling language in the decision that is contrary to well-settled principles of initiative law. Specifically, the court ruled that Proposition 218’s rules and procedures relating to voter approval of taxes expressly applied to local governments and thus the implication is that these rules and procedures do not apply to taxes imposed by voters via the initiative power. (Again, the rule at issue was the timing of the local election on marijuana dispensaries, not the two-thirds vote requirement.)

If, for some reason, the dicta (legalese for superfluous language) in the CCC v. Upland decision says what Prop. 13 enemies say it does — and we don’t think it does — then the consequences would indeed be profound and dangerous. It would give local governments a huge incentive to collude with front groups to propose local initiatives which would purport to raise special taxes with a simple majority vote.

What the court did not cite — perhaps because none of the parties briefed the issue — were the host of cases that hold that the people’s power of initiative is coextensive with that of a legislative body. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has always argued in defense of the initiative power, saying that if the Legislature (or city council) can do it, so can the people via initiative. But the corollary to this principle is that if the Legislature can’t do something, then neither can the people via initiative. Therefore, because a local government entity may not impose a special tax with a two-thirds vote of the people, then neither can proponents impose a special tax with a simple majority. If, for some reason, the dicta (legalese for superfluous language) in the CCC v. Upland decision says what Prop. 13 enemies say it does — and we don’t think it does — then the consequences would indeed be profound and dangerous. It would give local governments a huge incentive to collude with front groups to propose local initiatives which would purport to raise special taxes with a simple majority.

While the tax-and-spend lobby may cheer this ruling and hope that the tax floodgates will open, we suspect that local government attorneys are quietly advising their clients to be careful about overreaching. They probably realize that this decision is simply inconsistent with existing law relating to initiatives. Moreover, if any local government or interest group attempted to rely on this case as justification for a pursuing a special tax with a simple majority vote, they know that they would quickly find themselves in front of a judge.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This column originally appeared as an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune.