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Prepare to Be Inundated with Disinformation
And the rains came…
[by Jon Coupal] 1/3/06

The past week of storms, once again, puts the spotlight on flood control in California. This, along with the historic hurricane damage sustained in other parts of the nation, has moved infrastructure issues to the front burner. And a big part of addressing flood control is the question of how we pay for it. As the flood waters recede from California's rivers and streams, let's hope that irrational and panicked thinking recede as well.

Regrettably, a recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee was not a positive addition to the debate because it was based on patently erroneous information. The editorial called for the amendment of Proposition 218 to exempt flood control assessments from its provisions because such assessments require a two-thirds vote. This simply is not true. Benefit assessment financing under Proposition 218 requires a simple majority vote of property owners. Indeed, such votes occur frequently and a major flood control assessment was approved in Sacramento just a few years ago.

Jon Coupal

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

Proposition 218, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, was approved by California voters in 1996. It was intended to close several loopholes in Proposition 13 that allowed local governments to impose taxes and other exactions on property owners with no vote at all. Proposition 218 does not prohibit any specific type of tax or levy; it merely provides that when local and regional governments seek revenue increases they must first get permission from those who have to pay.

Benefit assessment financing has been employed in California for more than 100 years. It is used to finance improvements that directly benefit property owners. Flood control projects clearly fall in this category and nothing in Proposition 218 prohibits assessments for them.

That Proposition 218 does not require flood control assessments to be approved by a two-thirds vote is clear from an assessment approved by Sacramentans in the year 2000. The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) proposed the assessment pursuant to Proposition 218 and property owners were properly informed that the assessment would be imposed if approved with a majority vote. Despite requiring a mere majority, the assessment passed by a remarkable 82% margin.

Prop 218 is designed to give property owners a direct say in imposing proper assessments on real property, and this can be done with a weighted simple majority vote of the property owners. If local agencies want to impose an assessment for flood control purposes, they can do so with property owner approval. If they make a strong case to property owners and justify the planned projects with a detailed expenditure plan, property owner approval is virtually a sure thing.

The hurricanes, and the ill-advised responses from government at all levels to them, can provide a valuable lesson to California. Throwing money at pretend -- not real -- solutions does more damage than simply wasting money. It results in citizens believing that a problem has been addressed when it has not.

Engaging citizens in the decisions for flood control infrastructure financing, within the existing requirements of Proposition 218, is far more likely to result in rational, better thought-out solutions to flood control than merely having politicians and the myriad of special interests dictating how we spend infrastructure dollars. The consequences of doing otherwise are severe. Just ask the citizens of New Orleans. CRO

copyright 2006 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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