Ballots that have verified signatures are opened and checked for problems, such as over voting or extra marks.
Mail ballots being checked at the San Diego County Registrar of Voters office in 2020. Photo by Chris Stone

California has always held a promise for its residents of a better life, an opportunity for growth, and a commitment to democratic values. Unfortunately, that promise is under threat with Assembly Constitutional Amendment 13, authored by Assemblymember Chris Ward of San Diego.

There’s a stark disconnect between the stated aims of ACA 13, to “protect democracy,” and the language in the legislation. If ACA 13 is truly centered on ensuring ballot integrity and safeguarding Californian voters, why does this Legislature ignore the fact that voters have approved multiple taxpayer protection ballot measures over the last five decades?

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It’s because ACA 13 is cynically designed to undercut the Taxpayer Protection Act, a ballot measure on the November 2024 ballot that will restore some of iconic Proposition 13’s critical protections that have been unfairly rolled back by courts.

It is clear that ACA 13 is an underhanded attempt to amend the state constitution to change the rules for passing constitutional amendments, rules that have been in place since 1849, and tilt the scales against measures that protect taxpayers, side-stepping the voters they claim to protect.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. ACA 13 isn’t just a standalone amendment; it’s a direct attack on Prop. 13. This isn’t merely a war on numbers or abstract policy. It’s an attack on one of the few remaining taxpayer protections that serves every homeowner, every renter, and every individual who calls California home.

In the clearest sign of its intent, ACA 13 sets a double standard that makes it harder to pass citizen-initiated taxpayer protections but does not create the same requirement for those proposed by Legislators. That is far from fair.  

For millions of working and middle-class families, each passing day seems to bring higher costs, and now, with ACA 13, we will be dealt a severe financial blow. ACA 13 is a blatant attempt to reduce voters’ ability to demand more accountability for their tax dollars and stop them from restoring critical taxpayer protections when courts remove them.

Prop. 13 was a modest attempt to limit out-of-control taxation in California and, especially for homeowners, it has worked well. But by no means has it reduced expanding government, which continues to grow like kudzu. The formerly Golden State has the highest income tax, state sales tax and gas tax.

Even with Prop. 13, California ranks 14th out of 50 states in per capita property tax collections. Is it any wonder why, as government and taxation grows, California’s population shrinks? There is a reason why the state’s most productive citizens and businesses are bailing out.

It is crucial to remind these legislators of the human faces behind the statistics — families, parents, and citizens whose aspirations and dreams are interwoven with the fabric of California. They should strive to keep the spirit and promise of California alive for the present and future generations, not figure out more clever ways to tax us into the poor house. 

ACA author Ward’s argument is that we should weaken Prop. 13 in a way that will open the door to new local sales taxes, parcel taxes, real estate taxes, and an endless list of new exactions. Someone needs to remind him that Californians are already overtaxed and his assault on Prop. 13 will not go unnoticed the next time he is up for reelection.

Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the largest taxpayer’s association in California with a membership of over 200,000.