The California Supreme Court appears to be divided

The Associated Press

California Supreme Court justices sounded split Wednesday over top Democrats’ plea to nix a ballot measure amendment that would make it harder to pass new taxes before it goes to voters in November.
The ballot measure would require voters to approve taxes passed by the Legislature and would raise the voter-approval threshold for some local taxes to two-thirds.
Top Democratic lawmakers want the court to invalidate the measure, arguing it’s unconstitutional.
Gavin Newsom and other Democratic leaders argued during Wednesday’s hearing that the court must move swiftly to prevent wide-ranging disruption if voters approve the measure.
Newsom and legislative leaders’ effort to block the measure has drawn support from labor unions, big-city mayors and local governments.
Hiltachk countered that California’s constitution has always split power between the Legislature and the electorate.
Last year, lawmakers placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would require the tax initiative to pass by a two-thirds vote.
That was widely viewed as an attempt to force the California Business Roundtable to negotiate a deal on its own proposal.


The justices of the California Supreme Court expressed disagreement on Wednesday regarding the leading Democrat’s request to scrap an amendment to a ballot measure that would make it more difficult to approve new taxes before they are put to a vote in November.

The ballot measure would raise the two-thirds majority needed to approve certain local taxes and mandate that voters approve taxes approved by the Legislature. Leading Democratic lawmakers contend that the measure is unconstitutional and want the court to invalidate it.

An attorney for Gov. During the hearing on Wednesday, Gavin Newsom and other Democratic leaders contended that the court needed to act quickly to avoid widespread disruption in the event that voters approved the measure. Although the supporters of the ballot measure urged judges to delay their decision until after the election, they pressed them on the potentially broad scope of the measure.

The battle in front of California’s highest court illustrates the high stakes involved in a standoff that has attracted the most influential politicians and elected officials in the state. Large-city mayors, local governments, and labor unions have backed Newsom and legislative leaders’ attempt to thwart the bill.

Advocates for the initiative, led by Thomas Hiltachk, cautioned the court against “making a political judgment it should not make.”. “.

Hiltachk argued, “Voters should be trusted with that judgment instead.”.

Supported by the California Business Roundtable and primarily funded by real estate interests, the ballot initiative would also require the Legislature to approve fees that the administration is currently allowed to impose. Additionally, it could render some taxes that have already been passed invalid unless they are approved again under the new regulations.

Opponents of the proposal claim it would significantly increase uncertainty for local budgets, erode public services, and make it more difficult for governments to act quickly in times of emergency. The initiative would fundamentally and illegally alter California’s governance by depriving elected officials of their ability to raise money, according to a more comprehensive argument put forth by Newsom and prominent Democrats.

“This measure would revoke that power for the first time in California history—the Legislature has had the supreme power to tax—since the state’s founding,” lawyer Margaret Prinzing told the high court.

In challenging a central tenet of the Democratic case, the justices asked whether that balance of power is unchangeable.

“What is the significance of the Legislature having this power as opposed to sharing this power with the electorate?” asked Justice Goodwin Liu. “Why would that constitute such a significant change?”.

Justices questioned the measure’s supporters about its broader implications at the same time. Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero questioned whether it would make responding to crises like the Covid-19 outbreak more difficult. Liu pointed out that the “vast” initiative might pay for routine municipal costs for libraries and senior centers.

“Every choice—even fines for libraries—is up for discussion,” Liu stated.

California’s constitution, Hiltachk retorted, has always divided authority between the Legislature and the people.

The last word, he declared, belongs to the people. “For more than a century, there has been a tug-of-war over taxes. “.

The hearing on Wednesday came after months of political wrangling by local governments, organized labor, and Democrats in an attempt to weaken the tax proposal. Last year, legislators put a constitutional amendment that would have required a two-thirds majority vote for the tax initiative to pass on the ballot for November.

That was perceived by many as an effort to compel the California Business Roundtable to engage in deal-making regarding its own proposal. However, not much has changed as the seven-week deadline for eliminating qualified measures approaches.

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