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Quote of the Day - The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much. - Ronald Reagan

In Some Cases, Government Is By The People And For The People. In Other Cases, Maybe Not.

What happens when you mix Californians' love for self-governance through adopting ordinances and propositions with home rule?  Apart from confusion, you may get two different answers, depending on where you live. 

Local governments in California enjoy the ability to regulate themselves or allow the legislature to regulate them.  The former are known as "charter" rule and the latter as "general" rule.   If a county or city elects charter rule, that county or city drafts up its own set of ordinances that determines how it will govern itself.  Most big cities and big counties in California have adopted charters.  But some haven't, and for those local governments, they're bound to the laws for local governments as set out in California's Government Code, which was drafted by the legislature up in Sacramento. 

The rub comes when locals in a general rule jurisdiction adopt an ordinance or proposition to let the county board of supervisors or a city council know how the electorate wants things done.  In a charter rule local government, an ordinance or proposition is just fine.  In a general rule local government, self-governance by adopting ordinances or propositions run into trouble. 

So much trouble, in fact, that ordinances and propositions in a general rule jurisdiction can be irrelevant.  They likely have no legally binding effect, as the County of Ventura just proved.  There, the voters back in 1994 got an initiative on the ballot that the Board of Supervisors unilaterally adopted before it could get voted on, as they are allowed to do.  The ordinance allocated monies received from Proposition 172 (the one-half cent sales tax) to various public safety agencies, such as the sheriff, the fire department and the like.

The purpose of the Proposition was to fund public safety agencies.  The County of Ventura ordinance included one additional requirement not in Prop 172:  increases in the 1994 base budgets to include inflation.  The ordinance also required the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to increase public safety budgets by an amount taking inflation into account.

The County Board didn't like that restriction, and challenged it.  The public safety agencies, on the other hand, fought to preserve the annual inflationary increase.  The Board argued that the ordinance took away its legislative power, and the public safety agencies argued that inflationary increases was a mandate from the people. 

The Court sided with the Board, holding that because Ventura had chosen general law rule, it was bound by the State Legislature's laws, which vests decisional authority in the hands of the Board, not the people.  The Court thought that the addition of the clause in the ordinance requiring annual increases in the public safety agencies budgets to account for inflation intruded too much on the Board of Supervisors' legislative authority.  In other words, the Board spoke for the people.  Or did it?

Is government by the people and for the people?

Posted by J. Craig Williams on 5/22/2006 at 14:58 Comments (0)


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