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20110628_ha_senate_budget24483.JPGThe Democratic head of the Senate budget committee said today he wants California voters to lower the threshold for school parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he will introduce legislation Monday placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot making it easier for school districts and county education offices to raise taxes. Democrats this month won supermajority control of the Legislature for the first time in over a century, making it possible for them to place constitutional amendments such as Leno's on the ballot without GOP support.

California requires that two-thirds of voters approve parcel taxes for schools, though it only requires 55 percent support for school bonds. Districts typically use bonds for building improvements but parcel taxes to support operating expenses.

In November, voters approved 15 parcel taxes for school and community college districts in California and rejected 10 others on local ballots, according to the California Local Government Finance Almanac. Among those that failed, seven would have passed under Leno's proposed law, with taxes ranging from $11 a parcel in the Contra Costa Community College District to $199 a parcel in San Bruno.

Legislative Democrats have said they wanted to use their supermajority powers sparingly when it comes to raising taxes. Another lawmaker, Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, had proposed asking voters to raise the car tax but retracted the idea after facing criticism both inside and outside his caucus.

Leno's proposal likely has greater caucus support, however, as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has expressed interest in lowering various local tax thresholds from two-thirds to 55 percent.

PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, listens to discussion on the main budget bill as senators prepared to vote on the state budget on Tuesday, June 28, 2011 in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua



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