California's Proposition 26 and a Little Less Glimmer on the Golden State

By Antero Rivasplata

Get expert insight on California's recent voter-approved Proposition 26, which restricts the levy of regulatory fees in California. The article discusses taxes and regulatory fees in California, the impetus behind Prop 26, and expected results. The article appears as the Lead Article to the March 2011 issue of California Environmental Law Reporter (Matthew Bender).

“In the wake of voter initiatives such as Proposition 13 (capping property taxes), Proposition 62 (specifying voting requirements for tax proposals), and Proposition 218 (limiting the adoption of taxes and benefit assessments), California government has had to perform a veritable Houdini act to collect enough revenues to fund public programs, keep public services flowing, and meet the demand for public infrastructure”, writes Antero Rivasplata. “By mixing taxes, assessments, and a variety of fees in an increasingly complex fiscal brew, agencies have cobbled together enough funds to keep the state going. Despite these efforts, anyone travelling California's highways, visiting its schools and libraries, or picnicking in its parks can't help but notice the ragged edges that have appeared. Services such as public health, police and fire protection, and public transit are suffering from underfunding as well.”

“On November 2, 2010, California's voters passed Proposition 26 (Prop 26), restricting the levy of regulatory fees. Although its specific effects are still unknown,” notes the author, “there is no doubt that Prop 26 will further complicate the funding of state and local programs to protect the environment.”

“Prop 26 amends Article XIIIA of the California Constitution to provide that ‘[a]ny change in state statute which results in any taxpayer paying a higher tax must be imposed by an act passed by not less than two-thirds of all members elected to each of the two houses of the Legislature.’ It goes on to define a tax as ‘any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by the State, with the specific exceptions listed below. This provision requires two-thirds approval of the Legislature for any increase in state taxes,” explains Rivasplata. “This aspect of Prop 26 may act to effectively nullify Prop 25 (which changes the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the state budget and spending bills related to the budget from two-thirds to a simple majority) whenever the state budget includes an increase in taxes.”

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Antero (Terry) Rivasplata, AICP, is a Technical Director with the firm of ICF International. Mr. Rivasplata has more than 30 years of experience in the preparation and review of environmental documents, and general and specific plans. Prior to joining ICF, Mr. Rivasplata was Deputy Director of the California Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) where he worked on issues relating to land use planning, environmental quality, local government finance, and legislation. Mr. Rivasplata has a B.S. in environmental planning and management from the University of California, Davis. He was the recipient of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association's "Distinguished Leadership -- Professional Planner" award in 1997 and honored by the Planners Emeritus Network in 2007. In addition, he is the editor of the Association of Environmental Professionals' quarterly publication, the "Environmental Assessor."

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