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    Vote no on all ‘citizens’ initiative’ tax increases. Send a message that this scam must end.
    • July 10, 2024

    It’s one of the biggest swindles in California history, cheating state residents out of hundreds of millions of dollars, but don’t expect the government to do anything to stop it.

    The government is behind it.

    I’m speaking of massive theft through the use of the “Upland” loophole, which really should be called the “Upland” sinkhole at the rate it’s swallowing your money.

    “Upland” is shorthand for a 2017 California Supreme Court decision that suggested, without really deciding, that the state constitution’s requirement of a two-thirds vote of the electorate to pass special-purpose taxes did not apply if the tax was proposed by a “citizens’ initiative.”

    Who, you may wonder, are these “citizens” who are so anxious to raise their own taxes that they stand in front of supermarkets in the heat to collect signatures on petitions?

    Consider the newest “Upland” tax proposal in Los Angeles County. It’s a citizens’ initiative that would increase annual property taxes by $60 per 1,000 square feet of a home, business or other structure located in the L.A. County Fire Protection District. Every year, the tax would adjust upward for inflation. The money would be directed to the L.A. County Fire Department for hiring and equipment.

    The citizens promoting this initiative happen to be the L.A. County firefighters’ union.

    This new parcel tax would raise approximately $150 million per year. You might think the L.A. County Board of Supervisors should prioritize hiring and equipment for the fire department, and cut something else in the county’s $46.7 billion budget. But why should they, when the firefighters’ union can crawl through the “Upland” loophole to the ballot?

    And here’s the scam: even though this tax increase is proposed by government employees for government services, as a “citizens’ initiative” under the state Supreme Court’s fabricated “Upland” standard, the tax increase will need only 50%-plus-one-vote to pass, instead of two-thirds.

    In March 2020, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors put a similar parcel tax proposal on the ballot. It needed a two-thirds vote, 66.67%, because it was proposed by “the government.” Measure FD won the approval of only 52.59% of voters, with 47.41% voting no. It failed.

    If the supervisors had put the same proposal on a clipboard and headed to the supermarket to collect signatures to put it on the ballot, it would have slipped through the “Upland” loophole without any problem. In fact, that happened in San Francisco in 2018. Two of the county supervisors ran an initiative campaign for a tax on commercial property leases to pay for childcare and early education programs. It received the barest majority vote, and the supervisors declared it passed because it was a “citizens’ initiative.”

    This was challenged in court, but the appellate court said it was fine.

    It’s not fine. The state constitution says tax increases of this kind need a two-thirds vote. But the state Supreme Court has so far refused to review any of the appellate courts’ rulings in the San Francisco case and similar cases around the state. The “Upland” standard remains fuzzy and fictional.

    But wait, there’s more.

    A genuine citizens’ initiative, not from government employees, sought to close the “Upland” loophole. Over 1.4 million voters signed petitions to place the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act on the statewide ballot this November.

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    Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature filed a lawsuit to have it taken off the ballot, and that’s exactly what the California Supreme Court did. Respect for “citizens’ initiatives” only applies to tax increases.

    Now any union of government employees can write its own tax increase, direct all the revenue to its own benefit, pay for signature collection to get it on the ballot, buy enough advertising to bamboozle half the voters and start collecting your money.

    In June, the firefighters’ union turned in the signatures to qualify its measure for the November election. Their tax hike proposal will join another “Upland” tax increase on the L.A. County ballot, a “citizens’ initiative” that doubles and makes permanent the county’s “temporary” Measure H sales tax for homelessness programs.

    Both would pass with 50%-plus-one-vote instead of the 66.67% the constitution requires.

    Vote no on all “citizens’ initiative” tax increases. Send a message that this scam must end.

    Write [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley

    ​ Orange County Register 

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