Special Taxes: Is 2/3 or 50% voter approval needed?

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By Tim Seufert

The California Constitution requires that special taxes receive 2/3 voter approval for implementation, and this has been the general understanding for decades. Specifically, Proposition 218 requires that special taxes proposed by a council or board receive 2/3 approval for implementation. More recently, however, a court case, the California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland was decided: The results of that case essentially seemed to open the door to approval of special taxes if they were proposed by citizen initiative, not by the local governing agency.

The San Francisco City Attorney subsequently issued an opinion that the two‐thirds rule could be avoided in this way, if a special tax was proposed by citizen initiative. Three special taxes were then proposed by initiative (two city-related, with one for the school district) and approved at a simple majority, not at 2/3. The Oakland USD followed suit and “approved” a parcel tax that was put in front of the voters with a stated 2/3 requirement, which it didn’t achieve. The three San Francisco revenue measures approved in 2018 are now in litigation. Those cases will provide guidance for all local governments over the next year or two.

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