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California Democrats pass measure to thwart efforts to block tax increases

California’s Democratic-led Legislature has voted to approve an amendment to the state constitution aimed at thwarting corporate efforts to make it harder to pass new taxes.

Lawmakers on Thursday passed Assembly Constitutional Amendment 13, which would require ballot initiatives to increase voter thresholds under the California Constitution to reach that same higher bar to take effect.

The amendment, which will go before voters on the March primary ballot, is a direct response to an initiative called the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act. Led by the California Business Roundtable and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., the law would require voter approval for all tax increases passed in Sacramento. New local special taxes would also require a two-thirds vote of approval from residents.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. How would voting thresholds change?

Let’s start with the basics.

California law provides two paths to amending the state constitution.

Through the Legislature, lawmakers can pass a change with a two-thirds vote. Then, voters must approve that amendment with a majority vote — at least one vote of more than 50 percent in favor — in a statewide election for the change to become law.

Citizens can also organize to amend the California Constitution through a statewide initiative process. To qualify a proposed amendment for the ballot, supporters must collect signatures from voters in favor of the change equal to at least 8 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If those signatures are verified, the measure also goes before voters and requires a majority vote in a statewide election.

In March, a group of business interests gathered enough signatures to qualify an initiative to raise the voter approval threshold for tax increases.

If approved by voters on the November 2024 ballot, the measure would require any new taxes passed by the Legislature to be approved by a majority of voters. For new local special taxes, the bar would rise from a majority vote to approval by two-thirds of voters.

Democratic lawmakers and their labor allies responded over the summer by introducing their own constitutional amendment in the Legislature with ACA 13.

The measure, which passed Thursday with the strong support of Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), would require that any measure passed through the signature-gathering initiative process to amend the California Constitution to increase voter approval requirements at the state or local level. the measures would have to meet the same voter approval requirements. For example, if a measure seeks to change voter approval from a majority vote to a two-thirds vote, the measure itself would also need the support of two-thirds of voters to take effect.

ACA 13, called the Protecting and Preserving the Majority Vote Act, would also allow local governments to hold advisory votes to understand voters’ opinions on an issue.

If approved by voters in March, ACA 13 would apply to constitutional amendments adopted through the initiative process and presented to voters after January 1.

2. This seems weird. Why do unions and legislators want to change the thresholds?

ACA 13 is the latest example of political jockeying in the battle between progressive unions and conservative business interests at the state Capitol.

Defeating the corporate-backed ballot measure has become a top priority for Democrats and their allies.

The Service Employees International Union of California, which co-sponsored ACA 13, and a coalition that includes the League of California Cities and the California Teachers Assn., say the companies are trying to mislead voters and understate the willingness of communities to adopt their own policies. measures. The coalition says the changes would result in millions of dollars in cuts to local public services.

“To be very blunt, we are here today because very few special interests led by the California Business Roundtable have qualified a measure and want to change the rules to their advantage,” said Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (San Diego Democrat). in a Senate vote Thursday. “Make no mistake: They want to fundamentally change the foundations of our government, shut it down and halt our progress. »

Raising the approval threshold under ACA 13 from a majority of voters to two-thirds for the tax measure to pass would make it much more difficult for corporate interests to predominate. The unions believe it is absolutely fair that if you want to raise the threshold for other measures, your own measure should also be subject to a higher bar.

3. What do the opponents say?

Business interests say they are funding the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act to increase accountability for how the government spends California taxpayers’ money.

Their argument against ACA 13 is relatively similar to that made by unions against the trade measure.

The Business Roundtable argues that ACA 13 is an example of special interests attempting to diminish the voice of voters by applying only changes to amendments that make it onto the ballot through the signature collection process and not those adopted by the Legislative Assembly.

“Very simply, if you look beyond all of that, it’s about raising taxes and making it easier to raise taxes,” State Sen. Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) said during the Senate debate, where the proposal passed with a vote of 28 to 9.

The Assembly approved the measure Thursday 54-19.

Los Angeles Times

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