California voters unable to vote on state and local tax increases

The California Supreme Court, in a decisive move on Thursday, supported Governor Gavin Newsom by eliminating a measure from the November ballot that aimed to impose stricter regulations on tax increases, citing that such a change would disrupt the fundamental workings of the government. The measure in question would have mandated that voters approve any tax hike passed by the state Legislature and required a two-thirds majority vote from voters for all local tax increases, as opposed to a simple majority vote.

One of the most significant repercussions of the measure was its potential to retroactively reverse the majority of tax increases authorized since January 1, 2022. Local governments expressed concern that they stood to lose billions of dollars in revenue that had previously been sanctioned by voters. Furthermore, it posed a threat to a tax increase on firearms and ammunition, which lawmakers had endorsed last year to fund various gun safety initiatives and school safety enhancements.

Jonathan Underland, the spokesperson for the campaign opposing the initiative, hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a safeguard against a multitude of catastrophic consequences, protecting substantial funding for schools, access to reproductive health services, laws promoting gun safety in schools, and paid family leave. On the other hand, supporters of the measure criticized the ruling as “the greatest threat to democracy California has faced in recent memory,” emphasizing that the initiative had adhered to the requisite procedures to qualify for the ballot by gathering sufficient public signatures before the deadline.

The ballot initiative posed a complex political dilemma for Governor Newsom, a Democrat serving his second term and a potential presidential candidate. While he has consistently opposed many tax increases and campaigned against imposing new taxes on the affluent, he has demonstrated a willingness to temporarily raise business taxes to stabilize the state’s budget, a proposition he is advocating for once again this year. Republicans, in response to the court’s decision, lambasted Newsom as “greedy,” contending that his intervention to thwart the measure would perpetuate the escalating cost of living in California, a state burdened with one of the highest tax rates in the nation according to the Tax Foundation and other organizations.

Governor Newsom has maintained that he can stand against both new taxes and ballot measures that he believes would inhibit state and local governments from implementing tax increases during times of crisis. The act of removing a measure from the ballot prior to an election is an uncommon occurrence, although not unprecedented in California’s history. In a similar vein, in 1999, the court withdrew a measure set to reduce lawmakers’ salaries and strip them of the authority to establish boundaries for legislative districts due to its inclusion of multiple subjects. In the current scenario, the court unanimously declared the ballot measure unlawful as it sought to revise rather than amend the state Constitution, stating that while voters possess the right to impose new regulations on tax increases, such alterations cannot be executed through a ballot initiative as it would significantly disrupt the fundamental framework of the government. To revise the Constitution, a more arduous process is mandated, beginning with the approval of voters to convene a constitutional convention for the purpose of deliberating on the proposed changes.

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