Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association: Local Voters, State Propositions, and the Fate of Property Assessments

15 Feb 2010 09:01pm Michael J. McCarthy 

Since 1978, fiscal limitations imposed by the California Constitution have curbed the ability of local governments to raise revenue. Recently, the California Supreme Court made one of the most important of these limitations even more restrictive. In Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, Inc. v. Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, the court held that a property assessment intended to fund open space land acquisition and preservation did not meet Proposition 218’s procedural and substantive requirements. By eliminating the deferential standard of review traditionally accorded to this type of agency determination, Silicon Valley privileges state voters over local voters and elevates fiscal limitation to the level of core California constitutional issues. Although the court based its decision on the voters’ expressed intent to limit property taxes—as demonstrated in two popular voter initiatives—the decision’s departure from conventional jurisprudence will permanently constrain the ability of local governments in California to fund essential programs.

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