California Supreme Court leaves taxpayers unprotected

Expect your taxes to rise even higher. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court removed the Taxpayer Protection Act from the Nov. 5 ballot. Even though 1.4 million citizens signed their names to put it before the people. If voters had the chance to vote on it and approve the measure, it would have required all new statewide taxes to be enacted with a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, then a two-thirds vote of the people. And new local taxes likewise would have needed two-thirds approval. But voters will not be given a say.

Written by Justice Goodwin H. Liu, the unanimous decision held, “The measure exceeds the scope of the power to amend the Constitution via citizen initiative.” He argued the TPA “would transform the process of levying state taxes that has existed since the state’s founding.” And, “Indeed, the TPA would strip the Legislature of authority to promptly raise taxes when necessary.” 

Actually, if necessary the Legislature could pass a tax hike, then call a snap special election to get voter approval. Just three years ago, on July 1 Secretary of State Shirley Weber certified the signatures in the attempted recall of Gov. Gavin Newsom, voters started receiving ballots in the mail on Aug. 16 and the election was held on Sept. 14. Total: 76 days.

Moreover, the usual tradition of the Supreme Court is to let initiatives ride until after the voters make their decision. If an initiative loses, then no problem: the voters rejected it. If it passes, then the court can check it out. The PPIC Statewide Survey released just a week earlier actually found the TPA losing, 32% to 63%. 

“It makes no sense to anyone,” Jon Coupal told us of the decision. He’s the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and co-chair of the TPA. “Any semblance of impartiality in the California judiciary is now gone.” 

He brought up Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that passed with 63% of the vote. It rolled back property taxes to 1976 assessments, and limited future property tax increases to 1% of the assessment, plus a maximum 2% yearly increase. “If this court had been in session during 1978, they would have easily stricken Prop. 13,” he warned.

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He said the deck is stacked against taxpayers because Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Legislature and now the courts all favor no limits to taxing Californians. Yet the state already suffers the nation’s second highest top income tax rate, at 14.4% as of Jan. 1. Only New York City’s 14.776% is higher. Even the middle class in the Golden State is stuck with a 10.4% rate.

Further, although Tennessee imposes the highest average state-plus-local sales tax rate, at 9.55%, California’s is not far behind, 8.68%. And the Volunteer State has no income tax.

The court decision now means it’s open-season on taxpayers. Coupal advised to keep fighting for better legislators and a new governor in 2026 after Newsom, who cannot run again due to term limits, leaves office. Although the court short-circuited the initiative process Progressive Gov. Hiram Johnson installed in 1911, voters still have the final say – including on their tax rates.

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