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California bill seeks lower threshold for passing school tax measures

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A top California Democrat aims to ease requirements for voters to approve local taxes for schools, a potential first test of the state's tax-limiting Proposition 13 now that Democrats hold a supermajority in the Legislature

State Senator Mark Leno said on Thursday he would introduce a bill on Monday for a constitutional amendment that would reduce the threshold for approving school "parcel taxes" to 55 percent from two-thirds of voters set by Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 voter-approved measure best known for limiting property taxes.

The San Francisco Democrat's bill would apply to parcel taxes, which are tax measures put on ballots by school districts, community colleges and county offices of education.

If approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, the bill would be put to a statewide vote, said Leno, head of the state Senate's Budget Committee.

Many political analysts expect Democrats to use the two-thirds' legislative supermajority they won in this month's election to propose tax-related legislation. Republicans no longer have the votes to block such bills.

Leno's bill should be taken seriously, said Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a California anti-tax group.

He said the bill may soon develop into an early test of how hard Democrats could push against Proposition 13, which some see as the root of the state's fiscal problems because of the constraints it imposes on tax hikes. Republicans have long argued the state should simply restrain its spending.

"We hope there are a few moderate Democrats who see this is a direct assault," Coupal said. He noted some Democrats were urging moderation on tax bills after voters earlier this month approved tax increases in a measure proposed by Brown.

California's budget has experienced massive deficits in recent years as the state's economy fell on hard times that slashed revenue. Spending cuts figured prominently in budget-balancing efforts under Brown and his predecessor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.

(Reporting By Jim Christie; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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