Opponents of Proposition 25 are taking aim at the language of the initiative to lower the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for passing a budget, saying the measure is written in a way that could allow tax increases to be approved by a majority vote.
Proposition 25 proponents say the measure would lower the vote threshold for passing a budget and suspend legislators' pay when the budget is late -- not allow a majority vote for approving taxes. The intent language introducing the proposed constitutional amendment contends that, too, declaring: "This measure will not change the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to raise taxes.
But opponents say the actual operative language of the measure, which you can read here, effectively permits raising taxes with a majority vote.
"This is not a check and balance on the Legislature, this is a carte blanche for more taxes," Teresa Casazza, president of the California Taxpayers Association, said today at a roundtable with reporters.
How? The measure allows additional appropriations related to the budget, except those related to schools, to be approved by a majority vote. Opponents say tax increases and other changes requiring a supermajority vote, such as upping legislative per diem and other expenses, could be folded into those appropriation bills attached to the budget and passed by a majority. Language in the measure, they say, would allow the majority vote for the appropriations to trump the supermajority vote for stand-alone tax increases.
"You simply combine a tax with an appropriation and pass it with a majority vote," said Steve Merksamer, an attorney for the opposition campaign.
The budget and attached appropriations would take effect immediately, a provision opponents say would eliminate the public's right to seek to overturn approved fees or taxes via referendum.
"(Proposition 25) allows the Legislature to circumvent one of the most important checks we have on this power," Merksamer said.
Representatives of the Proposition 25 pointed to a Legislative Analyst Office analysis that says the initiative "does not change the vote requirement for increasing state taxes." In a statement they accused the opponents of "doing everything they can to cloud the real issues at hand."
"Proposition 25 does three very simple things: it reforms California's budget process by requiring the state budget to be passed with a simple majority; it maintains the two-third vote requirement for any tax increases; and, it holds legislators accountable for failing to do their job -- if they fail to pass a budget on time, they don't get paid and they can't pay themselves back later," Dave Low of the California School Employees Association said in a statement. "Any other suggestions, opinions or attempts to characterize Proposition 25 as doing anything other than those three things is merely a desperate ploy to distract from a badly needed reform for a broken system."
The Proposition 25 opponents, represented by the Stop Hidden Taxes Campaign, are also backing Proposition 26, a measure that would raise the vote requirement for approving some fees to two-thirds. Merksamer said it is still unclear what the legal implications would be if both measures pass.
PHOTO CAPTION: Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, sits on the floor alone during a Senate recess as the Senate waited to take up the budget. Sacramento Bee file photo Feb. 17, 2009 / Brian Baer