Chester General Manager Frank Motzkus alerted the Chester Public Utility District board of directors at its regular board meeting June 19 to a proposed ballot initiative that if passed, would mean drastic restrictions in the way the district could vote to raise fees and/or property taxes for critical district operations.
The Tax Fairness, Transparency and Accountability Act is expected to appear on the ballot for a vote in the Nov. 6 general election cycle.
“I received information on this measure from the California Special District’s Association (CSDA),” Motzkus told the board, adding that, “If this were to pass, it would basically take away the district’s right to raise local taxes.”
Motzkus read from the CSDA newsletter that the initiative’s impact “could prevent any new fees or assessments to fund water, sewer, trash, fire protection, parks and recreation, and other essential services and needed infrastructure.”
Furthermore, the ballot initiative (#17-0050) could, “Jeopardize the public health and safety of communities by cutting off new revenue intended to pay for crucial local services,” he argued.
The CSDA further stated in its newsletter that the ballot initiative restricts the ability of local communities and the state of California to fund services and infrastructure without obtaining a supermajority (two-thirds) approval of both the elected governing body and voters, along with other prohibitions and complications.
For example, Proposition 218 currently requires fees cover the reasonable cost of services. The new initiative amends current law to the impossible standard of predicting actual costs years into the future, according to CSDA.
Additionally, although the initiative requires that all increases in fees must be “reasonable,” it provides no definition as to what reasonable means. Therefore, the initiative provides a new avenue to challenge fees by enabling a plaintiff to claim a fee is not reasonable even if the fee meets the actual costs of service.
CSDA predicts the proposed ballot initiative amends the State Constitution in a manner that conflicts with itself and will lead to costly lawsuits. Only years of litigation at taxpayer expense will ultimately resolve the conflicting language should the initiative pass.
Motzkus continued, “With billions of dollars in deferred maintenance and unmet needs for California’s infrastructure, (the ballot proposal) exacerbates the neglect and deterioration of our roads, dams, waterways and other facilities.”
He told the board, “This is a ballot measure that is dangerous to us as a district, because we would not be able to raise fees to cover fire, water and sewer without going to a special election requiring approval by a two-thirds majority vote; requiring fee change approval from three of five board members, to four of five board members.”
Proponents of the proposed measure are Robert Lapsley of the California Business Roundtable, with major funding from the soda and alcohol industries, including the Wine Institute, American Beverage Association and Anheuser-Busch Companies.
Proponents have established a campaign website at: yestaxpayerprotectionact.com.
Organizations opposed include the California Special Districts Association, California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities, American Heart Association, California Professional Firefighters, California Police Chiefs Association, Police Officers Research Association of California, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the SEIU California State Council.
Opponents have established a campaign website at: ProtectOurCommunitiesCA.com.
Motzkus asked the board to look over the details listed in the document, and if they agreed that the tax initiative shouldn’t pass for local governments, to let him know at the next regular board meeting July 17 and he has a boilerplate resolution that the directors could fill out that would then be sent to CSDA, which would present the resolution on behalf of the district’s opposition to the proposed bill.