REALTORS® Fighting Legislative End-Run Around Voter Authority on Taxes
PAUL HERRERA, GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS DIRECTOR
At least as of the time of this article submittal, California REALTORS® had successfully staved off a piece of legislation designed to make it easier for local agencies to levy new taxes on homeowners for storm water infrastructure projects.
The bill, SB 231 (Hertzberg), would apply a new definition to the term “sewer” in order to allow larger projects to take advantage of a designed exception in California law. In order to explain this, we’ll need a brief trip to visit ghosts of elections past.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 218 by a 57-43 margin. Majorities in 54 of 58 counties and 405 of 469 cities voted in favor of the “Right to Vote on Taxes Act” of 1996. The voter-initiative resulted in a California Constitutional Amendment that gives local voters the right to accept or reject new taxes in most cases.
Some exceptions were created. Among those were basic fees related to providing services to a property. For example, local agencies don’t need to request voter approval to set and collect water bills, trash collection, flood control and, importantly here, sewers.
Supporters of SB 231 argue that the term “sewer” lacks a usable definition. To that end, they have volunteered to offer a definition that includes not just wastewater (i.e., everything that leaves your property via flush or drain), but most any water that needs to be dealt with. This would allow local agencies to create new taxes to fund storm water projects – many of which can be very
expensive – without presenting plans, needs or other information to voters for approval.
The California Association of REALTORS®, at the request of REALTOR® members, has sought to halt the bill. The bill is also opposed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has expressed serious concerns about the bill’s attempt to undo the intent of voters.
IVAR and other local REALTOR® associations across California have asked members to reach out to their representatives in the California Assembly to oppose SB 231 and keep decisions on new local taxes in the hands of the voters who will pay them.
To be clear, neither IVAR nor CAR oppose investing in infrastructure. For example, within the past year, IVAR maintained a neutral position on several school bonds that would result in higher property tax bills in order to fund construction and renovation of public schools. However, IVAR is working to oppose SB 231 not because it seeks to improve infrastructure, but because it seeks
to do so while avoiding accountability to taxpayers – just as taxpayers demanded when they passed Prop 218 in 1996.