California Propositions Are Their Own Beast!

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California Propositions Are Their Own Beast!

  • By: P.J. Van Ert

In this election cycle, California voters are faced with several decisions to make following their fellow citizen’s use of the initiative power and placement of propositions on the ballot. Like most elections, many of those initiatives are related to taxation. 

A recent California appellate decision clarified an important issue about the required number of votes necessary for a proposition to pass if it involves a special tax. 

Most local governments know and understand that if they seek to add a special tax to the ballot (a tax that will be used for a specific purpose beyond the general fund), then that tax will need to pass with 2/3 approval of the eligible voters (Proposition 13 requirement). This is an increased burden for these types of measures beyond the majority vote required for other tax measures. 

The City and County of San Francisco challenged the ruling that a special tax placed on the ballot by the people’s initiative power would also require the 2/3 voter approval. The specific proposition in question passed with 61% of the vote – falling short of the 2/3s voter approval. 

The court, adopting the infamous ruling in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland (2017) 3 Cal.5th 924, found that the requirements placed on “local governments” by Proposition 13 did not apply equally to the electorate’s initiative power. Thus, a special tax proposed by the people in a proposition need only garner a majority of votes. Put simply, it’s easier to get a special tax approved by a proposition! Notably, the California Supreme Court has declined to review this ruling. 

(City & County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in re Proposition C. (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 703).