Proposition 13, which revolutionized [for "revolutionized" substitute: demolished to general ruination --ed] government financing in California by slashing property taxes and erecting new barriers to other state and local tax increases, was upheld by the state Supreme Court soon after it passed in 1978, seemingly ending all questions about its legality. But a team of lawyers headed by a former federal appeals court judge has sued to overturn a crucial provision of Prop. 13 -- the requirement of a two-thirds legislative vote to raise state taxes. The lawyers argue that the two-thirds requirement has been undermined by more recent decisions... In particular, they contend, the court's May 2009 ruling on same-sex marriage defined the limits on voters' power to amend the California Constitution by initiative, and showed that a change as far-reaching as the two-thirds requirement exceeds those limits… That change "restructured California's basic governmental plan by granting a minority in either house of the Legislature a veto over the majority's exercise of the core legislative power to raise revenue by taxation"...I include that last bit, just to show how nervous the execrable Jarvisites sound about the prospects of this unexpected challenge. And when the Jarvisites are scared, decent people of sense everywhere should prick up their ears and pay attention, because it can only mean that a possibility for Good has unexpectedly and undoubtedly appeared on the scene.
Gay-rights advocates used a similar argument to try to overturn Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California… They said it altered the state's constitutional system in a different way -- not by increasing any voting requirements, but by using the initiative process to attack the concept of equality. Such a change, Prop. 8's opponents claimed, amounted to a "revision" of the state Constitution, and not merely an amendment. Constitutional revisions can be placed on the ballot only by the Legislature or a constitutional convention, while amendments can be circulated as initiatives. The state Supreme Court disagreed. In a 6-1 ruling, then-Chief Justice Ronald George said Prop. 8 was not a constitutional revision because it did not "make a far-reaching change in the fundamental governmental structure or the foundational power of its branches." [But, of course, t]hat's just what Prop. 13 did, by eliminating majority rule for tax increases and making it virtually impossible for a divided Legislature to raise money for everyday programs...
George said in a speech later in 2009 that Prop. 13's two-thirds vote requirement has played a key role in making California's government "dysfunctional." … If the suit succeeds, it would restore majority-vote legislative approval for state tax increases -- while leaving Prop. 13's property tax reductions intact. It would also change the balance of power in Sacramento, where minority Republicans routinely unite to prevent any increased levies. Prop. 13's chief advocate, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, is taking the suit seriously, said Jonathan Coupal, the association's president and a member of the legal team defending the measure. But Coupal said the state Supreme Court decided in 1978 that the measure was a valid initiative and it's not likely to reconsider that conclusion…
The role of Proposition 13 in the dismantlement of California civic order -- of our once and future model public education system, for one thing -- cannot be overstated. The place of 13 as a harbinger of Movement Republicanism's catastrophic ascendancy is no less conscpicuous, as will its overturning be a harbinger of the coming transformation, sooner and quicker than anybody thinks, of America into a sensible, sustainable social democracy.
It's a nice paradox that in dismissing the challenge to the hateful Proposition 8 the courts delineated the very criterion which creates the grounds for a challenge to the no less hateful 13. For my critical theory students in the house: just as critique is so often a matter of turning established facts into contradictions ripe for reform or overthrow, so too reformist struggle is often a matter of the sizing up and seizing of paradoxical opportunities thrown up by the interminable indeterminate vicissitudes of history.
Given state and national trends, there is little question that Proposition 8 will fall soon enough, come what may, but it may be that the delay of its fall when it had its day in court may have hastened the day another hateful destructive reactionary measure will fall, and in a way much easier than any of us anticipated. Heck, I've been thinking all this time a perilous constitutional convention might be required or nothing short of winning an implausibly huge reliably progressive Democratic supermajority would finally do the trick.
Now, even if the court challenge fails (and if it succeeds, well, caloo! calay!) it is likely the issue will still gain more public attention that educates the public of the real reactionary causes of California dysfunction in an obstructionist minority abusing rules in the service of their wildly unpopular anti-government zealotry (sound familiar? as goes California, so goes…) than California activists have ever managed hitherto, and hence make headway with ballot initiatives or make into campaign issues in ways that nudge a more accountable supermajority into better sense at last.
It's too early to hope too much, but I am hopeful.