The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to join other cities and agencies that are opposing a statewide ballot measure that could tighten how state, county and city governments can implement new taxes and fees.
The Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act will be on the November 2024 ballot, and city officials say that it has the potential to shrink the city’s budget by limiting how it assesses fees and fines.
If the measure passes, at the state level, it would require any new tax adopted by the state Legislature to also be put to voters before it could go into effect, rather than giving lawmakers the final say, as was the case with the controversial “gas tax” that was signed into law in 2017.
The changes under the proposed law would require two-thirds of both houses in the state Legislature to approve new taxes and then would need a majority of the state’s voters to also approve it.
Locally, officials say it would require “special taxes,” those dedicated to specific purposes like homelessness, to pass by a two-thirds vote, and cities could face increased scrutiny over fees and fines and would have to prove they’re set at the lowest possible cost. That could open the city to potential lawsuits, officials said.
“That is part of the reason why we’ve been recommending that the city oppose this ballot measure, based on the fact that it would potentially reduce city revenue streams and our local flexibility in terms of dealing with the financing of public services,” said Tyler Bonanno-Curley, the city’s manager of government affairs.
Councilmember Al Austin said this was not a “protection” act and it posed a threat to public safety and the city’s future if it passes.
“This is a real threat to our plans over the next five years, said Councilmember Al Austin. “This infrastructure plan, Elevate 28, it doesn’t happen if this passes.”
The proposed budget revealed earlier this month featured the “Elevate 28” investment plan, which includes a slew of new projects the city hopes to complete in advance of the 2028 Olympics.
The plan—along with the five-year infrastructure plan revealed last year that totals nearly $750 million, which is projected to be funded by state, county and city funds—could be in jeopardy if the ballot measure succeeds.
Mayor Rex Richardson said opposing the bill was a “no-brainer.”
“I think local governments have had an expanded role over time, and it’s been very difficult to sustain our operations, and we have to be able to have flexibility,” Richardson said. “I think this is yet another attack on our ability to fund basic services, and this is not the right time given the challenges that Long Beach has coming down.”
Long Beach is facing budget deficits in the coming years that could total $38.6 million over the next three years, according to the city’s most recent estimates. During that time, the city could have to deal with the loss of oil revenue, which has propped up the city’s annual spending plans by providing tens of millions of dollars that the city uses to pay for services and projects along the coast.
Voters will also get to decide how fast the city’s oil production phases out in 2024. While the city has projected that oil production will end by 2035 in Long Beach, Senate Bill 1137, which is on the November ballot as a referendum vote, could accelerate that.
The bill created 3,200-foot health and safety buffers from new oil production, and the city has previously said that over half of its wells are in those buffer zones. If the referendum vote fails and SB 1137 is upheld by voters, Long Beach has projected that it could cost the city as much as $20 million per year.