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California Supreme Court Allows Special Taxes With Fewer Votes

California Courts
The California Supreme Court courtroom in San Francisco

The California Supreme Court has removed a major obstacle to new local taxes.

Proposition 218, passed in 1996, requires two-thirds of voters to approve special taxes (on schools or a specific industry or for a specific purpose). But in a 5-to-2 decision, the justices ruled Proposition 218 only applies to taxes proposed by government officials — that voter initiatives need only a simple majority.

Some California officials immediately praised the decision as clearing a sometimes impossible barrier for communities to fund transportation or schools via new fees. But USC government professor Frank Zerunyan argues it creates an end-run around Proposition 218.

"My prediction is that anybody and everybody who wants to pass these special taxes, they’re not going to do it through the local government," says Zerunyan. "They’re going to figure out a way of proposing an initiative."

The court case centered on a 2014 initiative in the city of Upland that would legalize and tax medical marijuana dispensaries.

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