By Jon Coupal | In a victory for taxpayers, the Fresno Superior Court decided in favor of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association on Thursday, ruling that special taxes proposed by a voter initiative are not exempt from the state constitution’s two-thirds vote requirement.
At issue was Fresno’s Measure P, a sales tax initiative on the November 2018 ballot that proposed a 3/8 percent sales tax increase to provide extra funding for city parks, recreation, and after-school programs. The measure received 52% of the vote and was declared failed for lacking the two-thirds voter approval required by two constitutional amendments – Proposition 13 (1978) and Proposition 218 (1996).
The special interests that put the initiative on the ballot filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno and other government officials claiming that Proposition 13 should be ignored. They argued that the two-thirds vote requirement applies only to special taxes proposed by public agencies such as cities and counties and that it didn’t apply to taxes proposed by a voter initiative. Interestingly, the city of Fresno filed its own lawsuit against the proponents simply seeking clarification of its legal obligations to collect the tax or not. Because of the city’s apparent neutrality, it left no one to defend Proposition 13.
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association intervened on the grounds that the interest of taxpayers was unrepresented in the litigation. HJTA filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that it would open a huge loophole in the two-thirds vote protection if taxes proposed by initiative were exempt.
On Thursday, the Fresno County Superior Court agreed with HJTA in a five page decision explaining that the two-thirds vote requirement was not imposed on public agencies, but on the voters. Regardless of who authors the proposal, it must be submitted to the voters who must approve it by two-thirds, otherwise it is rejected.
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