July 24, 2012

Victory in Proposition 13 case

By Victory in Proposition 13 case

Today in Young v. Schmidt the California Court of Appeal upheld Proposition 13’s requirement that all state taxes pass by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.  In a terse, unpublished opinion, the court struck down former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young’s attempt to overturn this part of Proposition 13.  Young had argued that the super-majority legislative vote requirement was unconstitutional because voters never had the authority to enact it as an initiative in the first place.  Under the state constitution, voters may use their initiative power to amend the constitution, but they may not revise it.  In his briefs, Young tried to show that this legislative vote requirement so fundamentally altered California’s system of government that it was in fact a revision.  As my colleague Harold Johnson has noted, imposing a super-majority vote requirement on the legislature is a perfectly appropriate exercise of the people’s initiative power: because political sovereignty derives from the people in the first place, they have the right to readjust the terms of their delegation of power to the Legislature.

The court relied on a 1978 California Supreme Court case, Amador Valley Joint Union High School District v. State Board of Equalization, to reject Young’s arguments.  In Amador, the Court upheld Proposition 13 against a number of constitutional attacks, including that the measure was a revision.  Young tried to distinguish Amador on the basis that the Court never explicitly addressed the legislative two-thirds vote requirement in its opinion.  Today’s decision dismissed that claim, reasoning that Amador applies to all of Proposition 13, not simply bits and pieces of it.  By doing so, the court preserved California’s voters’ and taxpayers’ final say on matters of taxation.  Thanks are owed to our friends at Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who took over the defense of this case when the named government officials refused to defend Proposition 13.  Howard Jarvis and PLF will continue this fight should Young seek review of this decision in the California Supreme Court.

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