Prop. 26: Two-thirds needed for certain fees

SACRAMENTO You pay an entrance fee when you go to a state park or a building permit fee when you're expanding your home.

It takes only a simple majority of lawmakers at the state or local level to approve costs like that.

But in recent years, knowing they can't get a two-thirds vote required for new taxes, politicians have been playing word games.

"What our politicians are doing these days, they're trying to make it easier to raise taxes on individuals, on our taxpayers, by calling a real tax a fee to make it easier to get it passed," said Allan Zaremberg, California Chamber of Commerce.

With help from the tobacco, oil and alcohol industries, the California Chamber of Commerce is pushing Proposition 26, which equates many, but not all, fees with taxes by requiring a two-thirds vote.

For example, businesses that make products containing lead have to pay a regulatory fee the state uses to screen at-risk kids for lead poisoning. That passed by a simple majority, but would have needed more support under Prop. 26.

"You politicians, don't try to take a real tax and call it a fee to get around the Constitution," said Zaremberg.

But Californians don't need to look far to see how difficult it is to achieve a two-thirds vote. Things like the state budget get delayed.

Environmentalists worry the tougher standard will mean it'll be harder to impose fees on businesses to pay for potential problems they cause, such as air pollution or declines in water quality.

"The fees that these major corporations are paying are to clean up their mess," said Tina Andolina, legislative director of the Planning and Conservation League. "And that's why they've written this measure. They don't want to have to pay their fair share."

Proposition 26 opponents say the costs of any negative effects of business then shifts to taxpayers.

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