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Taking the initiative?

October 27th, 2012 · No Comments · Letters to the Editor

Kudos to the Signal Tribune for publishing an article that cleared up a lot of misunderstandings about the Taxpayers’ Right to Know and Vote initiative. In last week’s article “Signature drive continues for proposed initiative to require two-thirds vote for taxes,” Carol Churchill, attorney and former Signal Hill mayor, responded to those misunderstandings, saying City officials, “either do not understand the language of the initiative or they are deliberately trying to mislead the voters about the initiative’s impact.”
Ms. Churchill, point by point, referred to both State law and the language of the initiative to refute objections voiced by the city manager and similar to those complaints we continue to hear from our Council.
First, City Manager Ken Farfsing claimed that the initiative would require a vote on a host of small City fees like bicycle license fees and burglar alarm fees charged by the police department. Ms. Churchill pointed out that the initiative explicitly states that it complies with existing State law, within which is found the provisions of Proposition 218, passed by California voters in 1997. Prop. 218 excludes from voter approval certain fines, forfeitures, library fees, traffic ticket costs and other small fees. Ms. Churchill clarified that the Know and Vote initiative covers property-related fees that appear on property tax bills, not those small fees Farfsing was complaining about.
Second, Farfsing also complained that the initiative would “sunset” in 10 years, implying that requiring a vote on taxes like the oil-barrel tax would place an unrealistic burden on the city. Once again, Ms. Churchill pointed out that the initiative does not include the barrel tax, the hazardous-waste facility tax or the transient-occupancy tax. “If the initiative is approved, the City will be able to enact all those without voter approval,” she said.
Third, Farfsing complained that the initiative would require a city-wide vote on yearly assessments to pay for the California Crown neighborhood landscaping and lighting assessment district. Again, Ms. Churchill pointed to Proposition 218 that would exclude the California Crown assessment district.
I don’t understand why there are some who don’t want us to have the right to participate in decisions that affect our pocketbooks. The Taxpayers’ Right to Know and Vote initiative is not a Democrat or Republican issue, nor is it a conservative or liberal issue. And it is not an anti-tax issue. It is about citizen participation in the decisions that affect our lives. It’s about trusting the intelligence of our citizens.
If our City officials have reservations about our ability to make intelligent and reasoned decisions, they might be reassured by a study conducted by the non-partisan think tank Public Policy Institute of California. The study found that 42 percent of those measures requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenues from taxpayers was passed by the voter. Not 100-percent passed, to be sure, but local jurisdictions were able to convince their voters, 42 percent of the time, that they had gone as far as they could go with expenditure reductions, been as creative as they could be at finding alternative revenue sources, and that, indeed, for the taxpayers’ own good, needed to dip into their pocketbooks.
This is what Community First’s Taxpayer Know and Vote initiative is all about.

Richard Harris
Signal Hill Community First

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