[Editor’s note: On Friday, October 22, we ran an article by Michael Coleman. He was writing from the “No on 26” position. This article is the “Yes on 26” position.]
Cast under the shadow of rampant abuse in the City of Bell, local politicians are running scared. As information trickles out about the Bell City Council’s antics in repeatedly raising taxes without a public vote, local elected officials from cities throughout California are starting to wake up to the fact that they are accountable to voters for their taxing practices. They sense voters’ outrage and our desire to enact change this November – change that would stop the growing practice of local politicians raising taxes simply by calling them fees, thereby skirting a public vote to approve them. Proposition 26 will stop this frequently-used tactic from occurring in the future.
In response to public outrage – and recognizing that the status quo, specifically the ambiguity in what’s a tax and what’s a fee, works in the politicians’ favor – local government officials and their paid consultants and lawyers are going on the offensive to stop Proposition 26. To do so, they’re throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at the ballot measure because local politicians want to get and keep more control over taxpayer money!
The League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties – associations comprised of local elected officials throughout the state – have already gone on record opposing 26, highlighting its ability to impede local governments from taking more and more tax dollars to fund government spending. Now, law firms that represent cities – specifically, those attorneys providing counsel to cities on how to package hidden taxes by calling them fees – are going on the offensive for their clients and to protect a big part of their business.
Look no further than a recent diatribe against Prop 26 by Michael Coleman, with assistance from Michael Colantuono. In an article that strains the term “analysis,” both attorneys, who work for local politicians, attempt to create a sense of fear and impending doom should Proposition 26 pass. In Colantuono’s case, his interest is truly economic. His firm represents more than 50 local government entities throughout California and his website promotes his law firm as experts on local government revenues.
Both Coleman and Colantuono claim that if Prop 26 passes, it will result in “many years of uncertainty and litigation.” In fact, the opposite is the case. First, Prop 26 will create more certainty because it clarifies the definition of what is and isn’t a fee…and if a given policy doesn’t fit within the definition of a fee, then it’s a tax and needs to be approved as such. Second, and contrary to claims by local politicians or their paid consultants, Prop 26 won’t get rid of legitimate fees or California’s heralded environmental and consumer protections. But, it will stop the abuse that’s totaled $10 billion in recent years – money out of my and your pocket.
Third, the only way that Prop 26 will result in litigation is if municipalities decide to sue. At present, the burden of proof rests with the taxpayer to prove that a fee is really a tax. Realistically, when is a taxpayer going to have the financial resources or time to sue the government? The answer: only in the rarest and most egregious of circumstances. Prop 26 shifts the burden of proof to local governments, requiring that they prove that the fee is really a fee before its enactment – exactly where the burden should be. Finally, Prop 26 is not retroactive for any previously passed local government “fees,” – including those that are hidden taxes. It takes affect on a going-forward basis.
My personal favorite fear-mongering claim is that if Prop 26 passes, taxpayers would actually pay more…ironically enough, the very abuse that Prop 26 seeks to correct. Only twisted bureaucrat-ease logic could make this point with a straight face, given that Prop 26 will stop local politicians from labeling taxes as fees and passing them without a popular vote. It will actually force local politicians to be honest with the voting public. If a proposal is a fee, prove it before you pass it. If it’s a tax, follow the constitution and get voter approval.
Peter Foy is a Ventura County Supervisor and Chairman of Americans For Prosperity — California