by Lou Binninger
On Friday December 21, 2018, the Sacramento law firm of Bell, McAndrews and Hiltachk filed an action in Yuba County Superior Court to invalidate Measure K - the Public Safety/Essential Services Protection Ordinance that appeared on the November 6 ballot. Measure K received 54.1% of the vote. The suit contends that the measure needed a two-thirds voter approval to become law.
The suit’s plaintiffs are Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), a nonprofit public benefit corporation comprised of over 200,000 taxpayers, Charlie Mathews, a local rice farmer and businessman, and John Mistler, former Yuba County Supervisor and owner of the Territorial Dispatch weekly newspaper. Defendants are the County of Yuba, its Supervisors, and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.
HJTA sent a letter to Yuba County officials during the Measure K campaign warning that the ballot measure was improperly written to be eligible to pass with a simple majority vote (50% plus 1). On September 30, County Administrator Robert Bendorf was quoted in the Appeal Democrat saying, “The County receives numerous solicited and unsolicited legal opinions annually on a variety of topics”..... “I personally would like to thank the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and their service as a taxpayer watchdog for California residents, but for the county, we are focused on providing the best services we can with our general and non-discretionary revenue.”
HJTA attorney Laura Murray’s letter warned, “Unfortunately, should the board pass Measure K on less than two-thirds voter approval, it would violate Proposition 218. Consequently, Measure K could be subject to costly litigation. HJTA urges the board to acknowledge that Measure K requires a two-thirds vote, or to consider a general tax or other budget resolutions to meet the needs of Yuba County.”
Item 10 of the suit gets to the issue. “Measure K unequivocally proposed a special tax. By the terms of its own governing provision, funds generated by the tax were specially dedicated to ‘public safety’ and related essential services. In addition, the funds generated by Measure K were to be placed in a special account to preserve them for their special purpose.”
Measure K not only described the special nature of the tax but Supervisor Gary Bradford repeatedly posted on social media that the funds were to be set aside and guaranteed for public safety.
A special tax requires a two-thirds vote for passage. A general tax needs only a simple majority. The voting process differences are outlined in Propositions 13 and 218 along with Section 50077 of the Government Code.
Since Measure K is an illegal tax the lawsuit argues that the adoption and enforcement of Measure K by the County, and the administration of the tax by the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration is unconstitutional and must not be allowed to commence.
The suit asks the court to determine the validity of the Measure K tax and to provide injunctive relief preventing the enforcement of the tax.
The suit does not address the county’s biased media campaign or the use of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to sway voters. Measure K opponents argued that both were illegal. The California Fair Political Practices Commission has jurisdiction over where monies are derived and how they are used for a campaign.
Bell, McAndrews and Hilltachk, LLP’s website describes them as “California’s Leading Political Law Compliance and Litigation Firm.” The Daily Journal serving California’s legal community says they are “Sacramento’s Go-To Firm for Campaign and Election Law.”