All eyes on state Supreme Court, as justices weigh 2024 ballot measure

May 8, 2024

By Kayla Sherwood, senior communications and media manager, and Sheri Chapman, general counsel 

The California Supreme Court heard highly anticipated oral arguments today on a legal challenge that could remove the “Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act” from the November 2024 ballot.

The ballot measure — or what opponents are calling the Taxpayer Deception Act — would limit the ability of voters and governments to fund services by making it harder to raise revenue and pass future ballot measures. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022, which could invalidate more than 100 voter-approved ballot measures and new laws, if not readopted as required by the measure.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature filed the legal challenge with the Supreme Court last fall. Cal Cities filed an  amicus brief in support of the legal challenge, arguing the measure should be removed because it unlawfully revises the state constitution and would impair essential public services. 

“The fact the Supreme Court granted full briefing and argument of the writ petition is very unusual — plainly the Court views this as an unusually important case,” said Michael Colantuono, co-author of the local government association amicus brief.

During the hour-long hearing, the California Supreme Court asked questions and listened to arguments made by the proponents and opponents of the legal challenge. Justice Goodwin H. Liu noted the scope of the measure was “vast” and could make fundamental structural changes to government finance. Chief Justice Patricia Guerrero acknowledged the extensive amicus briefing on the case.

“The core question in the case is whether the measure is a revision of the California constitution, which is not allowed by initiative, rather than an amendment, which is allowed, either because it strips the Legislature of the power to tax or because its myriad interlocking provisions disable government financial planning and implementation,” Colantuono said.

The court’s consideration of this legal challenge has garnered national attention, with Cal Cities’ message about the measure’s detrimental impact on cities’ ability to deliver services front and center.

“We’re raising the resources to fill potholes, so that we can support affordable housing in our community, so we can work to address homelessness, so that when you dial 911 there’s somebody there to answer the phone — not in two minutes — but in 30 seconds,” Cal Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman said to the Associated Press. “So, this really goes against the essential nature of how local government raises the revenues to provide services that everyone wants in their communities.”

Coleman told the Los Angeles Times that the “new requirements for local ballot measures would effectively erase more than 100 measures that voters already approved.” Coleman talked about Walnut Creek, which in 2022 passed a critical public safety measure that funds five police officers.

"If this Taxpayer Deception Act passes, it may rescind our measure and we [could] lose funding for our five police officers that are so instrumental to making a safe community,” Walnut Creek Council Member Cindy Silva previously said of the measure. 

Cal Cities Legislative Affairs Lobbyist Ben Triffo recently spoke about the impacts of this measure with The Sacramento Bee. If the Taxpayer Deception Act passes, it would decimate critical services, from trash collection and road repair to 911 emergency service staffing.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have necessary tax revenue or fee revenue, you’re going to have to backfill from other sources or you’re going to have to make cuts,” Triffo said.

For the Bay Area NPR-affiliate KQED, veteran reporters Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos spoke with Bloomberg reporter Laura Mahoney about the measure on the Political Breakdown podcast, titled “ Why Cities Call This Ballot Measure an “Existential” Threat.

The court is expected to issue a decision by the end of June, when the Secretary of State must formally qualify measures for the November 2024 ballot.

Paid for by Protecting Local Democracy and Vital Services, a Committee Opposed to Initiative 1935 Sponsored by the League of California Cities. Committee's Top Funder: League of California Cities