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Opponents of a controversial bill to give local governments more power to seek tax increases have preemptively launched a campaign to repeal the measure should it become law.

A business-backed coalition called Stop Hidden Taxes has opened a campaign account to fund a referendum on the legislation, which would allow counties, school districts, community college districts and county boards of education to ask voters to approve taxes on a variety of goods and services, including income, sales, alcohol, oil and medicinal marijuana.

"Allowing this bill to become law would undermine the state's struggling economy, kill jobs and send exactly the wrong message about California's business climate to prospective employers. We are confident voters will reject this measure at the ballot box," said California Chamber of Commerce CEO Allan Zaremberg, a co-chairman of the campaign.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who authored Senate Bill 23 X1, has sought to use the threat of new local taxing authority as leverage in the budget process, saying he will pursue the measure absent a budget solution that provides adequate funding for local services.

The majority-vote bill was approved by the Senate last Friday after a proposal to extend higher tax rates for one year, which requires Republican support, fell short of passage. Steinberg's measure has yet to be sent to the Assembly for consideration.

Steinberg, who transferred the contents of what was formerly Senate Bill 653 into a budget trailer bill earlier this month, has suggested it could not be subject to referendum in its current form. Opponents, citing a Legislative Counsel opinion requested by Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, dispute that claim.

The opposition coalition says they have already retained a campaign consulting team, pollster and a firm to gather the 504,760 valid voter signatures they would need to ask voters to repeal the measure if it becomes law. Qualifying a referendum within 90 days of the bill being signed into law would block the proposal from taking effect until the bill is put on the ballot.


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