Any budget agreement between Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that skirts the state's two-thirds vote requirement for new taxes will almost certainly be challenged in the courts — and there's a significant chance the state would lose, some legal experts said Monday.
It's not a slam-dunk case for either side, though, law professors say, because the Legislature is largely moving into uncharted territory with its plans to break the budget stalemate by effectively replacing a tax that is tough to increase with a fee that is much simpler to boost.
"The question is, 'What is a tax?' " said Jesse Choper, Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley. "It may be a simple little question, but like most things, it can be more complicated."
Democrats and the governor are trying to hash out a plan that would eliminate about half of the state's burgeoning $40 million deficit. The foundation of the plan is a measure passed by the Legislature last month that would raise some fees, lower some taxes and come up with an extra $10 billion or so in revenue – all without triggering the Proposition 13 requirement that any tax increase be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.
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