Wednesday, June 4, 2014
C.A. Upholds Tax Measures Approved in 2012 Balloting
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has upheld a pair of tax measures approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2012.
Div. Eight, in an unpublished opinion by Justice Elizabeth Grimes, Monday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Jones’ ruling that the hotel and landfill taxes voted on in unincorporated parts of the county—Measure H and Measure L—were properly presented and approved in June 2012.
Harlan Green, a county voter, filed an election contest after the 2012 voting. He claimed that the approvals violated Proposition 62 and Proposition 218.
Proposition 62 is a statutory measure, approved in 1986, that bars imposition of a “general tax” by a local government without majority approval.
The constitutionality of Proposition 62 was attacked by a number of local governments. The state Supreme Court upheld the measure in 1995, contrary to two Court of Appeal decisions.
Proposition 218, also known as the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, was approved in 1996 and amended the state Constitution to create new regimes for the enactment of different kinds of local taxes.
A “general” tax may only be imposed, extended, or increased by a majority vote of the electorate. A “special” tax requires a two-thirds majority vote.
The county’s Measure H, approved by more than 60 percent of the electorate, provided for a 12 percent rate for the hotel tax—also known as the transient occupancy or “bed” tax. That tax was originally enacted in 1964 and increased from 10 to 12 percent in 1991. Measure L, a tax paid by landfill operators on gross receipts, was enacted in 1991.
Grimes, in her opinion for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the county that the 2012 voter approvals give the county the right to collect the taxes. She rejected the plaintiff’s contention that the election materials inadequately informed the voters of the history of the taxes and the necessity of voter approval under the two state propositions.
In each instance, the jurist wrote, voters were told that court decisions had placed the validity of the taxes in doubt and that voter approval would both allow the county to continue collecting the tax and ratify past collections.
The justice also concluded that the plaintiff was attacking “the sufficiency and propriety of the ballot materials,” which can only be done before an election.
She cited Owens v. County of Los Angeles (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 107, in which the court rejected similar challenges to a voter-approved utility users tax. Grimes noted that the plaintiffs in that action were represented by the same law firm that represents Green.
Grimes also rejected the argument that the taxes violate Proposition 218. She noted that both taxes were enacted by the county before Proposition 218 was approved and that numerous decisions have held that taxes enacted prior to the Right to Vote on Taxes Act need not be approved by voters under that act.
Attorneys on appeal were David W.T. Brown and Paul E. Heidenreich of Huskinson, Brown & Heidenreich for the plaintiff and Lloyd W. Pellman, Winfield D. Wilson, and Stephen P. Wiman of Nossaman for the county.
The case is Green v. Logan, B248773.
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