LOS ANGELES -- Gov. Pete Wilson of California this week said he would support legislation to overturn a recent state Supreme Court ruling that could hinder attempts by counties to increase local sales taxes.
Gov. Wilson told reporters he was disappointed by last week's court decision that struck down a 1988 sales tax increase in San Diego County.
The court invalidated the half-cent tax increase for jail and court construction on grounds that the measure required two-thirds voter approval, rather than the simple majority it received.
The state supreme court based its decision on an interpretation of Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax-cutting measure, which requires a two-thirds approval vote for all new local special taxes.
San Diego County officials had argued that the two-thirds requirement did not apply to their sales tax plan.
Gov. Wilson said he would support a state constitutional amendment to overturn the high court's decision.
To appear on the ballot, however, such a proposal would need two-thirds support in both the Assembly and the Senate. And voter approval would be uncertain at best because of the usual resistance that arises over attempts to make it easier to raise taxes of any sort.
Nevertheless, local officials might rally around an attempt to combat the court decision. Counties already are strapped for new revenue sources, and many larger counties were eyeing similar sales tax increases to fund jail and court improvements.
Because of the holidays, many local officials and state legislative specialists could not be reached for comment yesterday about Gov. Wilson's suggestion regarding the constitutional amendment.
One source in the state capital noted that it could be difficult to convince enough legislators to try rolling back the supreme court ruling.
The source noted, for example, that Gov. Wilson already has encountered a cool reception from the Legislature when he proposed letting localities approve general obligation bond measures for schools and parks with a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds vote that is currently required under state law.
Similar opposition could undermine a proposal for simple-majority sales tax approval, the source said.
But the sales tax measure might draw from a broader base of support, because localities are pressed to fund justice facilities and other infrastructure.
California counties also have relied heavily on sales tax increases in recent years to fund transportation improvements.
Bond lawyers said they doubted the San Diego County ruling would affect sales tax measures that were never challenged after voter approval.
But the ruling is likely to cast a pall over pending proposals for such sales tax increases. Some of those proposals spawned litigation is likely to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
The various pending sales tax measures would generate billions of dollars in new revenue over the next two decades.
In many instances, those revenues also would secure bond issues.