Anaheim Council Postpones Murray’s Anti-Tax Measure

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The Anaheim City Council Tuesday night postponed a proposal by Councilwoman Kris Murray ni increase the number of council votes it takes to put a tax measure on the ballot.

Currently, all it takes is yes votes from a simple majority of council members to get a tax proposal on the ballot. Murray’s measure – known as the Anaheim Taxpayer Protection Act – would change the requirement to a two-thirds majority. Her measure would itself require voter approval in the 2016 general election because it changes the city charter.

Murray acknowledged from the dais that one of the reasons behind her proposal is a change in the city’s electoral system in which council members will be elected by districts rather than in the current at-large format. The new system, approved by voters last November, will be in place by 2016 and is expected to give more representation to working-class Latino voters in the city’s flatlands.

It will also increase the number of council members from five to seven.

Murray said  Tuesday that she heard council candidates, who she didn’t name, openly supporting proposals for new taxes. She argued that the city should continue focusing on investing in private development to generate revenue.

“A lot of the taxes we’ve heard proposed… are regressive in nature,” Murray said.

Although the city is 54 percent Latino, the council members are all white, mostly Republican and hail from middle-class to affluent neighborhoods. Moving from at-large elections to voting by districts is expected to bring more Latino Democrats into the mix.

If voters approved Murray’s proposal, it would take a 5-2 majority to get tax measures on the ballot, a tall order even with a more progressive council.

Opponents of Murray’s proposal say it’s being done to prevent a new council from passing a Disneyland gate tax, which would tax visitors to the theme park and raise money for city services.

One critic, Orangejuice blogger Greg Diamond, said it should be called the “Anaheim Protecting Taxpayers From Themselves Act” because it makes it more difficult to allow voters to weigh in.

Some also privately speculated that the measure was done specifically for the benefit of Disneyland, which spent more than $670,000 during the last election season to promote Murray and another council candidate while attacking their opponents.

Murray first proposed the initiative at her swearing-in ceremony following her successful bid for reelection.

“What this is really about is a gate tax for Disney,” said Diamond, who is also general counsel for a residents organization that has sued the city over bond measures and known as the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility (CATER). “Ms. Murray wants to make a gate tax impossible to pass.”

Councilman Jordan Brandman, the council’s only Democrat, opposed Murray’s initiative, describing it as unnecessary. He said past city councils have rarely tried to enact new taxes. In the one instance he could recall, voters shot down a proposed utility users tax.

“I think there’s a pretty good indication in this city that we’re a pretty taxpayer friendly community… and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon,” Brandman said. “With that, what is the issue we’re trying to solve tonight?”

Mayor Tom Tait said he wants the discussion to also include the closing of a loophole that allows the city  to float bonds financed by the city’s general fund – which pays for basic services like police and fire protection.

However, that most likely won’t happen. Council members ultimately decided to discuss closing the loophole, but as a separate issue and at a future meeting.

Last month, the city won a court battle with CATER over hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds to finance the city’s convention center expansion, other city improvements and the refinancing of old debt.

The city charter also requires a citywide vote before issuing bonds that obligate the general fund. But for the new convention center bonds, city leaders circumvented voter approval by creating a financing scheme that ultimately hooks the general fund for the payments. Essentially, the city would be dipping into the general fund to pay another entity that floats the bonds.

CATER representatives said that the scheme was an obvious and illegal attempt to skirt the voters. But they lost in court and chose not to appeal.

Regarding Murray’s measure, Tait and Vanderbilt said they want to know whether it would be a factor in how credit agencies rate the city’s bonds. Tait questions whether the agencies might consider the increased difficulty in placing new taxes on the ballot as hindering the city’s ability to raise revenue in times of financial hardship.

Vanderbilt said after the meeting if credit agencies indicate it could be a factor that leads to a credit downgrade, he would at least want the voters to be informed of that on the ballot. He also asked whether other charter cities have a higher threshold for placing new taxes on the ballot.

“I’m not trying to find a needle in a haystack to not pass it. I’m just trying to cover our bases,” Vanderbilt said.

Given Tait’s and Vanderbilt’s questions, the vote on Murray’s proposal was postponed to the April 7 council meeting.

Clarification: The use of the word tabled in the previous headline and lead sentence of this article could have led the reader to believe that Councilwoman Kris Murray’s anti-tax proposal was postponed indefinitely.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek