Cal Supreme Court Hears Governor’s Request to Invalidate Tax Measure

Ballot Initiative Seen as an Unlawful Effort to Revise State Constitution

California State Seal Sacramanto, California, Usa

On May 8, 2024, the California Supreme Court heard the case brought by Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature that asks the court to remove an initiative from the November 2024 state ballot that would require voter approval for any increase in state or local taxes or fees.  On September 26, 2023 attorneys from Olson Remcho filed an emergency writ with the California Supreme Court on behalf of Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Legislature, and former Senator John Burton asking the Court to invalidate the initiative.  The writ is here.  

Although the Supreme Court’s hearing was unusual because most challenges to California initiatives are reserved for post-election review, the justices unanimously agreed that given the nature of the changes proposed by the measure, pre-election adjudication is warranted.  Olson Remcho attorneys on the writ include Robin Johansen, Richard Rios, Margaret Prinzing, and Inez Kaminski. 

From the founding of the state, the Legislature has had the supreme power of taxation and this measure would revoke that power for the first time

According to an article in Politico:  “The measure’s opponents warn it would undermine public services, create massive uncertainty for local budgets and prevent governments from responding nimbly to crises. Newsom and leading Democrats have also made a more sweeping argument: that the initiative would fundamentally and unlawfully change how California is governed by stripping elected officials of their authority to raise revenue. ‘From the founding of the state, the Legislature has had the supreme power of taxation and this measure would revoke that power for the first time in the history of California,’ attorney Margaret Prinzing told the high court.”

After the writ was filed, former Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego) and Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas (D-Hollister) issued a statement: “This ballot initiative is an unlawful effort to revise our state constitution, and is attempting to fundamentally restructure the roles of California’s legislative and executive branches, as well as the role of local governments. The measure seeks to eliminate the state’s ability to swiftly respond to emergencies and provide resources for critical services that Californians and communities rely upon. We can’t underscore enough the amount of harm this initiative would cause Californians. We are calling on the California Supreme Court to determine that this far-reaching and disruptive proposal is a constitutional revision.”

Mayors of eight of the largest cities in California had also filed an amicus letter with the Court asking that the justices take up the matter for immediate review, saying in part, “the Mayors of the cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, San José, San Francisco, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, and Irvine respectfully urge this Court to grant review in Legislature v. Weber, No. S281977. Petitioners have asked the Court for emergency relief to prevent the “Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act” (the “Measure”) from being placed on the November 2024 ballot. Not only does the Measure impermissibly use the voters’ initiative power to revise the California Constitution by making fundamental changes to the structure and foundational powers of government, it also includes a retroactivity provision that poses an immediate threat to vital state and local services that are so important to our cities’ residents.”  The Mayors’ letter is here.