| Text of Proposed Law | This - 218 | Argument in Favor |

Analysis of Proposition 218

by the Legislative Analyst


Local governments provide many services to people and businesses in their communities. To pay for these services, local governments raise revenues by imposing fees, assessments, and taxes. This constitutional measure would make it more difficult for local governments to raise these revenues. As a result, this measure would:


This measure would constrain local governments' ability to impose fees, assessments, and taxes. The measure would apply to all cities, counties, special districts, redevelopment agencies, and school districts in California.


Current Practice. Local governments charge fees to pay for many services to their residents. Some of these fees pay for services to property, such as garbage collection and sewer service. Fees are also called ''charges."

Local governments often establish several fee amounts for a service, each based on the approximate cost of providing the service to different types of properties (such as commercial, industrial, or residential property). Local governments usually send monthly bills to property owners to collect these fees, although some fees are placed on the property tax bill. Local governments generally hold public hearings before creating or increasing such a fee, but do not hold elections on fees.

Proposed Requirements for Property-Related Fees. This measure would restrict local governments' ability to charge ''property-related" fees. (Fees for water, sewer, and refuse collection service probably meet the measure's definition of a property-related fee. Gas and electric fees and fees charged to land developers are specifically exempted.)

Specifically, the measure states that all local property-related fees must comply by July 1, 1997, with the following restrictions:

In addition, the measure specifies that before adopting a new property-related fee (or increasing an existing one), local governments must: mail information about the fee to every property owner, reject the fee if a majority of the property owners protest in writing, and hold an election on the fee (unless it is for water, sewer, or refuse collection service).

Taken together, these fee restrictions would require local governments to reduce or eliminate some existing fees. Unless local governments increased taxes to replace these lost fee revenues, spending for local public services likely would be decreased. The measure's requirements would also expand local governments' administrative workload. For example, local governments would have to adjust many property-related fees, potentially (1) setting them on a block-by-block or parcel-by-parcel basis and (2) ending programs that allow low-income people to pay reduced property-related fees. Local overnments would also have to mail information to every property owner and hold elections.


Current Practice. Local governments charge assessments to pay for projects and services that benefit specific properties. For example, home owners may pay assessments for sidewalks, streets, lighting, or recreation programs in their neighborhood. Assessments are also called ''benefit assessments," ''special assessments," ''maintenance assessments," and similar terms. Local governments typically place assessment charges on the property tax bill.

To create an assessment, state laws require local governments to determine which properties would benefit from a project or service, notify the owners, and set assessment amounts based on the approximate benefit property owners would receive. Often, the rest of the community or region also receives some general benefit from the project or service, but does not pay a share of cost. Typical assessments that provide general benefits include fire, park, ambulance, and mosquito control assessments. State laws generally require local governments to reject a proposed assessment if more than 50 percent of the property owners protest in writing.

Some local governments also levy ''standby charges," which are similar to assessments. Standby charges commonly finance water and sewer service expansions to new households and businesses. (The measure treats standby charges as assessments.)

Proposed Requirements for Assessments. This measure would place extensive requirements on local governments charging assessments. Specifically, the measure requires all new or increased assessments--and some existing assessments--to meet four conditions.

Figure 1 summarizes the existing assessments that would be exempt from the measure's requirements. We estimate that more than half of all existing assessments would qualify for an exemption. All other existing assessments must meet the measure's requirements--including the voter approval requirement--by July 1, 1997.

Figure 1

Existing Assessments Exempt from
the Measure's Requirements

  • Assessments previously approved by voters--or by all
    property owners at the time the assessment was created.
  • Assessments where all the funds are used to repay bond
  • Assessments where all the funds are used to pay for
    sidewalks, streets, sewers, water, flood control, drainage
    systems or, ''vector control" (such as mosquito control).


Current Practice. Local governments typically use taxes to pay for general government programs, such as police and fire services. Taxes are ''general" if their revenues can be used to pay for many government programs, rather than being reserved for specific programs. Proposition 62--a statutory measure approved by the voters in 1986--requires new local general taxes to be approved by a majority vote of the people. Currently, there are lawsuits pending as to whether this provision applies to cities that have adopted a local charter, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento, San Jose, and many others.

Proposed Requirements for Taxes. The measure states that all future local general taxes, including those in cities with charters, must be approved by a majority vote of the people. The measure also requires existing local general taxes established after December 31, 1994, without a vote of the people to be placed before the voters within two years.

Other Provisions

Burden of Proof. Currently, the courts allow local governments significant flexibility in determining fee and assessment amounts. In lawsuits challenging property fees and assessments, the taxpayer generally has the ''burden of proof" to show that they are not legal. This measure shifts the burden of proof in these lawsuits to local government. As a result, it would be easier for taxpayers to win lawsuits, resulting in reduced or repealed fees and assessments.

Initiative Powers. The measure states that Californians have the power to repeal or reduce any local tax, assessment, or fee through the initiative process. This provision broadens the existing initiative powers available under the State Constitution and local charters.


Revenue Reductions

Existing Revenues. By July 1, 1997, local governments would be required to reduce or repeal existing property-related fees and assessments that do not meet the measure's restrictions on (1) fee and assessment amounts or (2) the use of these revenues. The most likely fees and assessments affected by these provisions would be those for: park and recreation programs, fire protection, lighting, ambulance, business improvement programs, library, and water service. Statewide, local government revenue reductions probably would exceed $100 million annually. The actual level of revenue reduction would depend in large part on how the courts interpret various provisions of the measure. In addition, because local governments vary significantly in their reliance upon fees and assessments, the measure's impact on individual communities would differ greatly.

Within two years, local governments also would be required to hold elections on some recently imposed taxes and existing assessments. The total amount of these taxes and assessments is unknown, but probably exceeds $100 million statewide. If voters do not approve these existing taxes and assessments, local governments would lose additional existing revenues.

New Revenues. The measure's restrictions and voter-approval requirements would constrain new and increased fees, assessments, and taxes. As a result, local government revenues in the future would be lower than they would be otherwise. The extent of these revenue reductions would depend on court interpretation of the measure's provisions and local government actions to replace lost revenues.

Summary of Revenue Reductions. In the short term, local government revenues probably would be reduced by more than $100 million annually. Over time, local government revenues would be significantly lower than they would otherwise be, potentially by hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Individual and business payments to local government would decline by the same amount. In general, these local government revenue losses would result in comparable reductions in spending for local public services.

Cost Increases

Local governments would have significantly increased costs to hold elections, calculate fees and assessments, notify the public, and defend their fees and assessments in court. These local increased costs are unknown, but could exceed $10 million initially, and lesser amounts annually after that.

School and community college districts, state agencies, cities, counties, and other public agencies would have increased costs to pay their share of assessments. The amount of this cost is not known, but could total over $10 million initially, and increasing amounts in the future.

| Text of Proposed Law | This - 218 | Argument in Favor |