Until recently, it was generally assumed that a two-thirds vote was required for the passage of all local taxes imposed to fund a specific purpose, or special taxes, in California under the state Constitution. The 2017 California Supreme Court decision in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland called this into doubt by holding in another context that a tax placed on the ballot by voter initiative was not subject to the same constitutional restrictions as a tax placed on the ballot by a local governing body.
At the time, many predicted that the decision could have a far-reaching impact on the local tax landscape, including California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger in a dissenting opinion. Common sense dictates that more taxes will pass when it is easier to do so.
A flurry of litigation in San Francisco, Oakland and Fresno ensued shortly thereafter concerning new special taxes that passed by a simple majority but not a supermajority vote. Trial courts came down on both sides of the issue. The appellate courts, however, uniformly found that special taxes proposed through a voter initiative only require a simple majority vote to pass. When the California Supreme Court denied review of those appellate decisions, the die was cast.
Today, localities up and down the state are embracing the voter initiative process for imposing special taxes, and taxpayers are left dealing with the fallout. In their article published by Law360, Eversheds Sutherland attorneys Tim Gustafson and John Ormonde recap the history of the simple versus supermajority vote saga and discuss what the result means for California taxpayers going forward.
Read the full article here.