State Senator Carol Liu Introduces Bill to Eliminate 2/3 Rule for Transit Taxes

Dec 5th, 2012 | Posted by

Yesterday we wrote about the need to restore majority rule for transit funding votes in California. The new Democratic supermajority may be headed down that path. State Senator Carol Liu of Pasadena has announced that she is proposing a constitutional amendment to lower the threshold for a local transit tax from 2/3 to 55%:

Senator Carol Liu (D-Pasadena) introduced a proposed constitutional amendment, SCA 4, that would establish a lower vote threshold of 55 percent for propositions related to funding local transportation projects.

SCA 4 is a constitutional amendment, which requires a 2/3 vote to send to the voters. Because there are other 2/3 requirement reduction proposals out there, my guess is that these would be consolidated into a single ballot proposition for voters to consider. Who knows whether it would pass. But it’s not a hard case to make. 33.34% of voters should not be able to stop the will of the majority. The current rules are absurd and are causing transportation, as well as education, to suffer. Let’s hope that the Legislature approves SCA 4, either on its own or as part of a larger package, so that it can appear on the November 2014 ballot.

  1. joe
    Dec 5th, 2012 at 18:32

    It takes a simple majority vote to declare war.

    Taxes are more serious and require super majorities or, if we are lucky, for transportation, maybe 55%.

    What a joke.

    VBobier Reply:

    Well We all thank the corpse of one Howard Jarvis, Apartment owner and Government hater…

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Hmm, how about a bill to dig up Jarvis’s corpse and publicly desecrate it for a while?

    Pointless, I suppose, but pretty cheap…

    Emma Reply:

    No. It actually takes a supermajority to go into war. But that seems to be one of the few big government spending programs Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No it doesn’t.

    joe Reply:

    No it doesn’t – never did and never will.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You may be thinking of a peace treaty after the war. That takes 2/3 to ratify.

    rant Reply:

    To declare war, it should be a 2/3 majority. At least there should an automatic war tax when a war is declared.
    Bottom Line: There should be less wars and more HSR.

    Jerry Reply:

    @ rant, Hear, hear.

    ant6n Reply:

    When’s the last time war were declared? Or better, how many of the recent American-fought wars declared?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    WW2, I believe.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes, 1941. On Japan, Germany and Italy.

    Emma Reply:

    I probably read something wrong. All I know is that Congress got a 2/3 majority for the war in Iraq.

    And yes, it’s ridiculous that you need a 2/3 majority for a peace treaty but only a simple majority for war.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Congress had a huge majority for all the post-9/11 crap. The Patriot Act passed 99-1 in the Senate, the Homeland Security Bill passed 90-9, etc. None of them needed that majority, though.

  2. Reedman
    Dec 5th, 2012 at 20:45

    Most California state/local municipalities/agencies consider the 2/3rds vote requirement to be just a formality. The standard approach is to have two measures on the ballot — a general fund measure (general fund tax increases only require a majority) and a parallel advisory measure that is considered to be purely “optional guidance to politicians on how to spend the tax money”.

    Hint: Prop 30 passed with only 55% of the vote. [CAHSR will get billions from the general fund, in competition with teachers, etc.]

  3. BMF from San Diego
    Dec 5th, 2012 at 21:41

    … And make it retroactive to November 6th!

    But, does the Bill need to go to voters. The Dems have a supermajority.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’d say No, 2/3rds of the legislature only…

    The constitution of California distinguishes between constitutional amendments and revisions, the latter of which is considered to be a “substantial change to the entire constitution, rather than … a less extensive change in one or more of its provisions”.[17] Both require passage of a California ballot proposition by voters, but they differ in how they may be proposed. An amendment may be placed on the ballot by either a two-thirds vote in the California State Legislature or signatures equal to 8% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, among the lowest thresholds for similar measures of any U.S. state.[18] As of 2008, this was 694,354 signatures[19] compared to an estimated 2007 population of 36,553,215.[20] Revisions originally required a constitutional convention but today may be passed with the approval of both two-thirds of the legislature and a majority of voters; while simplified since its beginnings, the revision process is considered more politically charged and difficult to successfully pass than an amendment.[21]

    The exact distinction between an amendment and a revision has never been clear, as highlighted by Proposition 8 in 2008.[citation needed] Passed as an initiative amendment in response to the California Supreme Court’s finding that same-sex marriage was allowed under the constitution, the proposition defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Opponents argued that Proposition 8 constituted a revision, and was thus beyond the scope of the initiative process. However, the California Supreme Court eventually ruled that it was in fact an amendment, and within the rights of the voters to add to the constitution.

    Amendments and revisions

    Nathanael Reply:

    I believe that Prop 13 of 1978 was in fact a revision, and *not* an amendment, because adding supermajority requirements for all taxation is a fundamental revision to the entire structure of state government.

    There is a completely and blatantly incorrect California Supreme Court ruling to the contrary from 1978, which unfortunately the California Supreme Court has been unwilling to review.

  4. Roger Christensen
    Dec 5th, 2012 at 21:51

    Living in the Central Valley, Prop 13 is sacred. Any fiddling with it will produce virulent histrionics. It will be quite a fight to prepare for. And let’s not get caught in a education vs transit bind.

    Donk Reply:

    The bill banning federal funds to CA is back….

    VBobier Reply:

    Like last time, It shall not pass, Repugs will pass this only if they hold the US Senate and they do not…

    Nathanael Reply:

    Prop 13 has to be killed, period. The time to kill it is now. The part which has to be killed is actually section 3, the 2/3 requirement in the legislature for raising taxes. The 2/3 requirement for local referenda should be killed too, though. The property tax stuff was irrelevant, a phony, a cover for these scams pushed by the Howard Jarvis Thieves Association.

  5. Donk
    Dec 5th, 2012 at 22:40

    The bill banning federal funds to CA is back…

    VBobier Reply:

    Like last time, It shall not pass, Repugs will pass this only if they hold the US Senate and they do not…

    Tony D Reply:

    No federal funds for California? Fine, then we should send NO tax money to Washington!

  6. Ben
    Dec 6th, 2012 at 07:17

    The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee is holding a hearing now on high speed rail. The hearing is televised.

    An Update on the High Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Program: Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

    VBobier Reply:

    I missed most of it, I did note the FRA appropriated $10.1 Billion for HSR, nice, now if CA can get enough to get to Palmdale CA from just North of Bakersfield…

    the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program has been appropriated to total of $10.1 billion.

  7. Dave
    Dec 6th, 2012 at 08:09

    This would have also saved Alameda County Proposition 1B For Transportation improvements throughout the County including $400 Million startup money for Bart To Livermore Construction. It also required 66.67% and got 66.53% and fell to defeat.

    Prop. 1b would have doubled the transportation sales tax PERMANENTLY from 1/2 cent to 1 full cent in Alameda County.

    VBobier Reply:

    66.11% for Measure J in Los Angeles County, same result, but to borrow a phrase from the Terminator “They’ll be back”… When? Probably after Nov 2014, if that bill gets passed to lower the local transportation measures to 55% max for Victory, instead of an outrageous and shameful 66.67%…

  8. John Burrows
    Dec 6th, 2012 at 15:12

    If a 55% threshold is too hard to swallow, maybe the legislature will compromise at 60%. Even failed bond issues frequently get more than 60% of the vote.

    If you assume that a voters optimism about California’s future has some influence upon how they will vote on bond issues, then a recent Public Policy Institute of California survey gives clue that in the future a 60% vote for passage will become progressively easier to reach.

    In answer to the question “Is California generally going in the right or wrong direction”

    50% in age group 18-34 said right direction
    45% in age group 35-54 said right direction
    37% in age group 55 and older said right direction

    And by race or ethnicity:
    Asian-American—-51% right direction
    Latino————— 54% right direction
    White————— 36% right direction

    44% of all Californians say we are headed in the right direction—Up from 14% in 2009, and 48% of us actually approve of our lawmakers.

    Most interesting to me—80% of the grumpy old white people (Republicans) think that California is headed in the wrong direction.

    If the question “Do you support high speed rail in California”? had been a part of this poll—I wonder what the result would have been.

    Howard Reply:

    Another option is the tax passes if it get more than 50% in two consecutive general elections. That way a “temporary” majority, some group spurred to turn out by some event, cannot pass it but a “permanent” majority that truly reflect the will of the voters can. This allows the opposition plenty of time to make their case, but still allows majority rule. Some non governmental organizations use this method for amending there own constitution. This method also prevent “election shopping” where democrats put measures on the ballot in presidential elections because democrats have higher turnout, but republicans put measures on the ballot in non presidential elections because republicans will be a higher percentage of voters. It would be on both. Of course if the tax measure passes by more than 55% or 60% in any one election it still passes immediately.

    joe Reply:

    Why not just count us Dems and Liberals as 3/5 a person? There’s a constitutional precedent for this simple solution. It’s only fair – otherwise we’ll pass tax increases and have a functioning government.

    I wouldn’t call it apartheid but maybe we can setup some assurance this minority can still rule the State.

  9. joe
    Dec 6th, 2012 at 18:29

    The GAO Dec 6th Preliminary Assessment.

    Preliminary Assessment of California’s Cost Estimates and Other Challenges

    What GAO Found
    Based on an initial evaluation of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s
    (Authority) cost estimates, GAO found that they exhibit certain strengths and
    weaknesses when compared to best practices in GAO’s Cost Guide. Adherence
    with the Cost Guide reduces the risk of cost overruns and missed deadlines.

    GAO’s preliminary evaluation indicates that the cost estimates are comprehensive
    in that they include major components of construction and operating costs.
    However, they are not based on a complete set of assumptions, such as how the
    Authority expects to adapt existing high-speed rail technology to the project in
    California. The cost estimates are accurate in that they are based on the most
    recent project scope, include an inflation adjustment, and contain few mathematical
    errors. And while the cost estimates’ methodologies are generally documented, in
    some cases GAO was unable to trace the final cost estimate back to its source
    documentation and could not verify how certain cost components, such as stations
    and trains, were calculated. Finally, the Authority evaluated the credibility of its
    estimates by performing both a sensitivity analysis (assessing changes in key cost
    inputs) and an independent cost estimate, but these tests did not encompass the
    entire cost estimate for the project. For example, the sensitivity analysis of the
    construction cost estimate was limited to 30 miles of the first construction segment.
    The Authority also did not conduct a risk and uncertainty analysis to determine the
    likelihood that the estimates would be met. The Authority is currently taking some
    steps to improve its cost estimates.

    The California high-speed rail project faces many challenges. Chief among these
    is obtaining project funding beyond the first 130-mile construction segment. While
    the Authority has secured $11.5 billion from federal and state sources, it needs
    almost $57 billion more. Moreover, the HSIPR grant program has not received
    federal funding for the last 2 fiscal years, and future federal funding is uncertain.
    The Authority is also challenged to improve its ridership and revenue forecasts.
    Factors, such as limited data and information, make developing such forecasts
    Finally, the environmental review process and acquisition of necessary
    rights-of-way for construction could increase the risk of the project’s falling
    behind schedule and increasing costs.

    Recall CARRD made a big deal about the CAHSRA estimates changing in repose to changing requirements and new information. The GAO did not criticize the CAHSRA for this – they acknowledge the difficulty.

    GAO is still investigating the CAHSRA so critics have no excuse to withhold their comments and concerns.

  10. joe
    Dec 6th, 2012 at 18:46

    HSR Ridership – oh my.

    GAO: Challenges to Developing Ridership and Revenue Forecasts

    Developing reliable ridership and revenue forecasts is difficult in almost every circumstance and for a variety of reasons. Chief among these are (1) limited data and information, (2) risks of inaccurate assumptions, and (3) accepted forecast methods vary. Although forecasting the future is inherently risky, reliable ridership and revenue forecasts are still critical components in estimating the economic viability of a high-speed rail project and in determining what project modifications, if any, may be needed.

    Best practices identified by various agencies and transportation experts have identified certain components of the ridership- and revenueforecasting process that affect results more than others and that are necessary for developing reasonable forecasts. Among others, key components include processes for developing trip tables,24 developing a mode-choice model,25 conducting sensitivity analyses, and conducting validation testing. The Authority’s forecasts included each of these key
    components in developing the ridership and revenue forecasts for the April 2012 revised business plan.26 While addressing these components does not assure ridership and revenue forecasts are accurate, it does provide greater assurance that the Authority’s processes for developing these forecasts are reasonable.

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