Category: DNPW5

California Commentary: Tax vs. Fee

By John Coupal

President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

In 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 — includingProposition 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 vIf, 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.
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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.

California Commentary from Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association

Be Careful What You Sign

By John Coupal President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Armed with a clipboard and a smile, they stand on the sidewalk in front of popular stores and public buildings. “Want to support schools?” or “Do you want to end poverty?” they call out to passersby. Those who respond positively are asked to sign a petition to place a measure to accomplish the stated goal on the ballot.

These are signature gathers, usually paid by the interests advancing the initiative they tout. They are not obligated to fully explain who would actually benefit from the passage of measure which, more times than not, is the sponsor of the initiative. And they do not have to volunteer if the initiative would raise taxes. In fact, for tax increase measures, saying that the proposal would hike taxes is likely the last thing they would admit.

However, even if signature gatherers are, at times, misleading, this does not justify further weakening the People’s right to initiative, referendum and recall, as some suggest. As with all matters relating to government, it remains the voter’s responsibility be informed and to ask questions — and questions should be asked before signing a petition in support of a measure that could result in a major change in state law.

The tools of direct democracy are worth preserving. They vest the citizenry with the power to be the legislature of last resort when sitting lawmakers prove to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt and unable to properly carry out the most important business of the public. One has only to look back to 1978. When the Legislature and then Governor Brown refused to act, voters placed on the ballot and approved Proposition 13, an answer to escalating property taxes that were literally forcing many from their homes.

Support for the legislative referendum in our country goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who advocated for its inclusion in the Virginia state constitution. Its implementation in California is credited to Governor Hiram Johnson.

Johnson was elected in 1910 on an anti-Southern Pacific Railroad platform at a time when most members of the Legislature where bought and paid for by the railroad. (An ironic historical footnote: Shortly after taking office Johnson paroled notorious Southern Pacific train robber, Chris Evans.)

In a 1911 special election, California voters approved the initiative process which allowed regular folks to be involved in making laws and broke the stranglehold of the railroad had on the Legislature. The politicians, none of whom like to share power, have been disgruntled ever since. Of course, the fact that politicians don’t like the people’s initiative, referendum and recall rights, that are embedded in the state constitution, may be one of the best arguments that these rights must be retained.

However, the key to a vibrant and effective initiative process is an informed public. So if asked to sign a petition, be wary. Read the initiative summary that is required to be printed at the top of the petition form. There are initiatives in circulation right now that would increase income taxes and undermine Proposition 13 protections for taxpayers. If there is a tax increase included, you may still decide to sign, but at least you will know the impact of your decision in a state where we already have the highest income rate, the highest state sales tax and were we rank in the top four in total tax burden. In other words, caveat emptor.

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.

 

Open Season on Taxpayers

 

By John Coupal President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Even if one lives in a cave, it’s hard to avoid the publicity surrounding the high profile presidential debates that are a reminder that this is an election year. And California taxpayers know, from hard experience, it also means that it is open season on taxpayers as local politicians rush to put tax increases on the ballot.

Emboldened by success in little-publicized 2015 off-year elections in which 29 out of 40 local tax increase measures passed, scores of communities and special districts are seeing this year as an ideal opportunity to raise your taxes.

Presidential election years tend to bring out more voters, including many who do not pay close attention to what’s on the ballot until the last minute. These “low information voters” are a prime target of tax raisers because they are more easily convinced by simplistic arguments. These duplicitous arguments often tout the benefits of a measure to a community, without ever mentioning that it is a new tax. Or they minimalize the actual cost by expressing it in pennies per day, “It will only cost about 50 cents a day!”

Of course those promoting new or higher taxes do not want taxpayers to notice that they are often being attacked on several fronts simultaneously, as cities, counties and special districts reach for their wallets.

One of the most popular taxes from the standpoint of public officials is the parcel tax, usually a uniform property tax on all “parcels” of property within a community or district. The politicians like these taxes because, unlike bonds which must be used for brick and mortar projects, the revenue from parcel taxes can be used for any purpose including raises in pay and pensions for public employees.

These taxes are insidious because they exceed Proposition 13 limits and there is no relationship between what is being charged and the property owner’s ability to pay. A young couple in a starter home, an elderly couple in a bungalow and a multimillionaire in a mansion, all pay the same amount. Additionally, parcel taxes bear no direct connection to any service actually provided to the property owner.

Already there is a parcel tax slated for nine Bay Area counties, while cities and school districts throughout the state are preparing their own new taxes for the ballot.

So, if you are a property owner, especially one on a limited budget, it is important to familiarize yourself with what is on your local ballot. There is a good chance that you will find a parcel property tax. Fortunately, because of Proposition 13, these require a two-thirds vote, so if a tax is not justified, there is a realistic opportunity for voters to reject it.

To paraphrase a series of commercials promoting a satellite television service currently urging viewers “don’t be a settler” – “don’t be a low information voter.” When your sample ballot arrives in a few short months, study it carefully. Keep in mind that the official title and summary for tax measures are often manipulated by the political class to encourage a Yes vote. If you have any doubts about the information provided, do further research.
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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.

Assemblyman Obernolte Top Chamber Business Awards

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte hosted the 1st Annual Top Chamber Business Awards for the 33rd Assembly District on January 9.
The banquet showcased outstanding businesses and local chambers of commerce. Three finalists from each chamber was recognized, with one being chosen to receive the 2016 award.

The Big Bear Chamber recipient was Big Bear Lake Brewing Company, which opened in April 2014. The other finalists were Helicopter Big Bear and Re/Max Big Bear.

Running Springs Chamber honoree was Pali Muontain summer camp, and the other finalist was Bacon-Wagner Excavating, Inc.

The Adelanto Chamber awardee was the Geo Group, and the other finalists were Desert Community Bank, and Heritage Victor Valley Medical Group.

Apple Valley Chamber honoree Walmart Distribution Center has been located there since 1996. Runner ups were Apple Valley Communications and Mojave Copy & Printing.

Barstow Chamber finalists Barstow Tire & Brake and Revolution Bowl were upstaged by Barstow Community Hospital for the award.

The Hesperia Chamber honoree was Sam Thatte Visual Communications.  Other finalists were Louisiana Cajun Seafood and Thompson Family Plumbing.

High Desert Hispanic Chamber winner was El Pescador restaurant, located at the Green Tree Golf Course. Runners-up were Bounce Realty and Edible Arrangements.

Victorville Chamber’s winner was ICR Staffing,with runners-up Mojave Copy & Printing and Southwest Gas Corporation.

High Desert Agencies Unite to Tackle Homelessness

San Bernardino County’s Point-in-Time Count is scheduled for January 28, 2016, and local agencies have begun strategizing ways to reach and survey the area’s homeless population. The count seeks to survey a snapshot of people and identify the need for homeless services. It provides data used by HUD and government agencies to making funding decisions.

It is important that the count survey as many homeless as possible in order to provide accurate data. “The problem is, how do you find those who don’t want to be found?” said Darryl Evey, Executive Director of Family Assistance Program, the agency managing the count for the cities of Hesperia and Victorville.

According to Evey, there is a large population of homeless single mothers and children who have yet to be reflected in survey data.

“There is a belief by some homeless that this survey might put them at a risk of ‘being found out,’” stated Caroline Reyna, Program Director at Family Assistance Program. “That isn’t the case at all. The demographic information is submitted to the county, and will not result in referrals to police.”

Last year the Victorville count identified 127 homeless, 100 of which were living in the riverbed that is now cleared out. Some were helped, but many are still homeless and have just moved to another area.

If they can’t be counted, the data will reflect fewer homeless in the area which isn’t the case, and could result in funding being diverted elsewhere.

A community collaboration is forming to reach the area’s homeless partnering with several agencies that may have a possible connections to the homeless.

In a meeting held November 9, 2015, eleven agencies met to discuss how to approach the count. Volunteers are needed to assist in planning, making the actual count, and identifying locations where homeless are now.

Through this joint effort, the data should reflect an accurate spectrum of the people in need.

The public is invited to join in the next planning meeting to be held on January 28, 2016 at 1 pm, Family Assistance Program office, 15075 7th Street, Victorville.

SVL Yacht Club Holds “On the Water” Poker Fun Run

The Spring Valley Lake Yacht Club organized an “on the water” poker run on September 26.
The event had boaters going from location to location to collect “top secret” envelopes containing poker hands.
Everyone had a lot of fun.
The yacht club meets the third Thursday of each month, and holds activities such as boat cruises, non-powered regattas, and more.

If interested in joining, contact Byron Ward at (760) 963-4942, or email blanor@aol.com

See more photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DesertNewsPost/