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Court declines to review Charles Young’s lawsuit against Prop 13

By Andra Lim

Nov. 26, 2012 11:47 p.m.

Proposition 13 remains intact after the California Supreme Court declined last week to review a lawsuit from former UCLA Chancellor Charles Young against the measure’s requirement for a two-thirds legislative vote on state tax increases.

Since it was approved in 1978, the measure has come to be seen as a cornerstone of state politics and funding.

Proposition 13, which mainly aimed to reduce and cap property taxes, has led to shifts in the way the state allocates funds to public programs ““ including the University of California, experts say.

[UPDATED Tuesday, 1 p.m.: Proposition 13’s impact on the UC is one reason Young decided to file the lawsuit, he said.

Young’s legal challenge of Proposition 13 is now “stymied,” he said in an interview. Since the lawsuit does not deal with a federal issue, the case cannot move into the federal court system, he said.

“We’re very disappointed,” Young said. “At least for the moment, we see no other route to go.”

One way Proposition 13 could still be overturned is through a popular vote, he added.]

Before Proposition 13 passed, local government and K-12 schools primarily relied on property taxes for funding. After the measure passed, the state took on more responsibility for funding these two areas, leaving less money available for the UC and other public programs, experts have said.

At the same time, raising additional revenue through tax hikes became more difficult, as Proposition 13’s supermajority requirement in the state legislature allowed the Republican minority to block tax increases.

The lawsuit, filed in 2009, argues that the two-thirds requirement creates minority rule and should be considered a constitutional revision, or a change to the “fundamental structure” of government.

To pass, a constitutional revision needs the approval of both the legislature and voters.

The lawsuit contends that Proposition 13 was instead improperly passed through a ballot initiative as a constitutional amendment, an “addition or change within” the state constitution that only requires the approval of state voters to become law.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which advocates against tax increases, defended Proposition 13’s two-thirds requirement against Young’s lawsuit in court. Just months after Proposition 13 passed, the California Supreme Court upheld the measure in a separate case, Amador Valley Joint Union High School v. State Board of Equalization, said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

“(The lawsuit is) a … flogging of a dead horse,” Vosburgh said.

In July, the Second District Court of Appeals agreed, and ruled that the issue of Proposition 13’s legality was already resolved.

The case then went to the state Supreme Court, which decided to not review the case without comment, said Peter Allen, a spokeman for the court.

Now, after the Nov. 6 election, Democrats have a supermajority in the state legislature for the first time in more than 100 years. Democrats now have the ability to raise taxes unilaterally, while Proposition 13 remains in place.

[UPDATED Tuesday, 1 p.m.: Young said the Democrats’ supermajority is likely to disappear after the next election in 2014, and that Proposition 13 is still problematic for both the state and the UC.

Proposition 13 may push decisions to raise taxes on voters, rather than allowing lawmakers, who are elected to deal with issues like raising revenue, to craft a tax increase, Young said.

Young said that taxes enacted through a proposition may be flawed “”mdash; for instance, Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax measure, Proposition 30, prevents cuts from being made to schools but also does not provide a long-term solution to decreases in state funding for education, Young said.

Defenders of Proposition 13 have said that there is a precedent for a two-thirds vote in the U.S. Constitution.]

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Andra Lim
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