Seeking to stop a $2.6-billion "taxjacking," the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to sue Gov. Pete Wilson and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in an effort to halt the shifting of property taxes from county governments to the state.
The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction against terms of the state's controversial budget accord, is to be filed today in Los Angeles Superior Court and is expected to be just the first of dozens of similar suits by counties across the state.
"This is a necessary action to stop the confiscation of property taxes for non-property-related services," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who helped launch the so-called Boston Tea Party movement by county governments several months ago. The state is taking the tax money in order to fund schools statewide.
"We're hoping 58 lawsuits are filed in all 58 counties to keep Brown and Wilson from twisting 58 judges' arms," Antonovich said.
The Board of Supervisors has also ordered the county auditor-controller not to turn over the disputed property taxes to the state while the lawsuit is being argued.
Wilson spokesman Dan Schnur said that "there is no basis for a lawsuit" and added that a vigorous defense can be expected. "I'd be flabbergasted if any court in the state could find any grounds for this lawsuit," he said.
Despite that confidence, 50 of the state's counties have reportedly passed Boston Tea Party resolutions, in which they are refusing to send to the state disputed property tax revenues they collect, according to county officials.
In preparation for filing the lawsuit, county Counsel DeWitt Clinton and his senior staff and supervisors from dozens of counties gathered in Sacramento last week to coordinate their plans.
The county is basing its case on Proposition 98, which spells out the state's responsibility for school funding, and on Proposition 13, which delineates how property taxes are raised and distributed. The suit also cites the principal of home rule and argues that the county cannot provide legally mandated services if it is not given sufficient funds.
Los Angeles County, for instance, will lose more than $300 million in tax revenues under the state's budget plan. The county may close hospitals and libraries, cut welfare benefits and lay off nearly 10,000 workers.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Edelman said the board will complete its budget plans on the assumption that it will lose the case and the tax revenues. "We have to be conservative and assume we don't have the money," he said. "But we hope that is not the case."