Registered voters will vote on Propositions 25 and 26 in the upcoming November elections which, if passed, will reconstruct the state’s budget approval process.
Prop 25 allows state legislature to pass budgets by simple majority rather than by two-thirds supermajority vote in an effort to end the state’s problem with meeting budget deadlines. California is one of only three states in the country that requires two-thirds approval for budget decisions.
Prop 26 will reclassify certain state fees as taxes, most notably those on companies that produce pollution or other externalities. Currently, fees are voted on differently than taxes — the legislature requires a supermajority to vote to approve taxes, while only a simple majority is required to approve fees.
According to Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams, passing Prop 25 will prevent minority parties in the state legislature from stopping budget proposals unnecessarily.
“If you had a majority rule, that would incentivize people to create compromises,” Williams said. “If we are going to fund education, and we do not want gridlock, we need to restore majority rule.”
For the past 23 years, California has experienced political deadlocking over the state’s budget and has failed to make many approvals by the deadline.
Despite California’s chronic legislative stalemate, opponents of Prop 25 are concerned that reducing the necessary required votes to a simple majority will grant the majority power too much control in the decision-making process.
In a written statement to the press, President of Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association Jon Coupal said the proposition could be problematic.
“This measure does not hold politicians accountable and worse, leaves them with even more unchecked power to tax than they already have,” Coupal said.
Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, said Prop 26 will have the most impact on ecological fees.
“Historically, the legislature has not used the category of fees very often,” Ross said. “The area with the most examples of the fees that would be affected are the environmental areas.”
California law has never clearly defined the terms “tax” and “fee,” leaving questions as to how Prop 26 will affect the state’s ability to charge companies fees to cover environmental damages. Ross said she is opposed to the proposition, which she thinks will make it harder to enforce fees for big polluters.
“Who should pay when you are talking about products or activities that have an adverse impact on society?” Ross said. “Should taxpayers as a whole pay or should the entity that causes that effect pay through a fee mechanism?”
In 1997, the California Supreme Court decided that it was legal for the state to use fees to charge a company for the costs of environmental damage. Ross said Proposition 26 will overturn the court’s decision, but will only apply from Jan. 1 onward.
Ross also said the proposition will have no direct impact on funding to the university system, and student fees will not change as a result.
Supporters for Prop 26 claim it will help hold legislators more accountable by making it harder to pass fee increases without voter approval.
In a written statement to the press, Chairman of the San Diego Tax Fighters Richard Rider said the initiative will reduce fees on small businesses.
“Without Proposition 26, California businesses and taxpayers in every bracket will continue to pay for these hidden taxes,” Rider said. “Prop 26 will pull the curtain back on the clever tricks that allow the politicians to raise taxes without regard for the constitutional requirements and the people’s right to vote.”