City of Sacramento v. State of California, S006188

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtEAGLESON; LUCAS; KAUFMAN
Citation50 Cal.3d 51,266 Cal.Rptr. 139,785 P.2d 522
Parties, 785 P.2d 522 CITY OF SACRAMENTO et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. The STATE of California et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. S006188,S006188
Decision Date29 January 1990

Page 139

266 Cal.Rptr. 139
50 Cal.3d 51, 785 P.2d 522
CITY OF SACRAMENTO et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
The STATE of California et al., Defendants and Respondents.
No. S006188.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Jan. 29, 1990.

Page 140

[785 P.2d 523] [50 Cal.3d 56] James P. Jackson, City Atty., Sacramento, and William P. Carnazzo, Deputy City Atty., for plaintiffs and appellants.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., N. Eugene Hill, Asst. Atty. Gen., Paul H. Dobson, Richard M. Frank, Floyd D. Shimomura and Carol Hunter, Deputy Attys. Gen., for defendants and respondents.

De Witt W. Clinton, County Counsel, Amanda F. Susskind, Sr. Deputy County Counsel, Kitt Berman, Ross & Scott and William D. Ross as amici curiae on behalf of defendants and respondents.

[50 Cal.3d 57] EAGLESON, Justice.

In response to changes in federal law, chapter 2 of the Statutes of 1978 (hereafter chapter 2/78) extended mandatory coverage under the state's unemployment insurance law to include state and local governments and nonprofit corporations. Here we consider whether, in chapter 2/78, the state "mandate[d] a new program or higher level of service" on the local agencies, and must therefore reimburse local compliance costs under article XIII B of the California Constitution and related statutes.

We conclude that the state is not required to reimburse the chapter 2/78 expenses of local governments. The obligations

Page 141

imposed by chapter 2/78 fail to meet the "program" and "service" standards[785 P.2d 524] for mandatory subvention we recently set forth in County of Los Angeles v. State of California (1987) 43 Cal.3d 46, 233 Cal.Rptr. 38, 729 P.2d 202 (hereafter County of Los Angeles ). Chapter 2/78 imposes no "unique" obligation on local governments, nor does it require them to provide new or increased governmental services to the public. The Court of Appeal decision, finding the expenses reimbursable, must therefore be reversed.

However, our holding does not leave local agencies powerless to counter the fiscal pressures created by chapter 2/78. Though provisions of the Revenue and Taxation Code limit local property tax levies, and article XIII B itself places spending limits on both state and local governments, "costs mandated by the federal government" are expressly excluded from these ceilings. Chapter 2/78 imposes such "federally mandated" costs, because it was adopted by the state under federal coercion tantamount to compulsion. Hence, subject to overriding limitations on taxation rates (see, e.g., Cal. Const., art. XIII A), both state and local governments may levy and spend for their chapter 2/78 coverage obligations without reduction of the fiscal limits applicable to other needs and services.


In 1972, and again in 1973, the Legislature enacted comprehensive schemes for local property tax relief. Though frequently amended thereafter, these statutes retained three principal features. First, they placed a limit on the local property tax rate. Second, they required the state to reimburse local governments for their costs resulting from state laws "which mandate ... new program[s] or ... increased level[s] of service" at the local level. Finally, they allowed local governments to exceed their property taxation limits to fund certain other nondiscretionary expenses, including "costs mandated by the federal government." (Stats.1972, ch. 1406, § 14.7, pp. [50 Cal.3d 58] 2961-2967; Stats.1973, ch. 358, § 3, pp. 783-790; Rev. & Tax.Code, §§ 2206, 2260 et seq., 2271; former §§ 2164.3, 2165, 2167, 2169, 2207, 2231; Gov.Code, § 17500 et seq.)

Since adoption of the Social Security Act in 1935, federal law has provided powerful incentives to enactment of unemployment insurance protection by the individual states. In current form, the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (hereafter FUTA) (26 U.S.C. § 3301 et seq.) assesses an annual tax upon the gross wages paid by covered private employers nationwide. The tax rate, which has varied over the years, stands at 6.2 percent for calendar year 1990. (26 U.S.C. §§ 3301(1), 3306.) However, employers in a state with a federally "certified" unemployment insurance program may credit their contributions to the state system against up to 90 percent of the federal tax (currently computed at 6 percent for this purpose). (Id., §§ 3302-3304.) A "certified" state program also qualifies for federal administrative funds. (42 U.S.C. §§ 501-503.)

California enacted its unemployment insurance system "on the eve of the adoption of the Social Security Act" in 1935 (Steward Machine Co. v. Davis (1937) 301 U.S. 548, 587-588, 57 S.Ct. 883, 891, 81 L.Ed. 1279; see Stats.1935, ch. 352, § 1 et seq., p. 1226 et seq.) and has sought to maintain federal compliance ever since. Every other state has also adopted an unemployment insurance plan in response to the federal stimulus.

In 1976, Congress enacted Public Law number 94-566 (hereafter Public Law 94-566). Insofar as pertinent here, Public Law 94-566 amended FUTA to require for the first time that a "certified" state plan include coverage of the employees of public agencies. (Pub.L. No. 94-566 (Oct. 20, 1976) § 115(a), 90 Stat. 2667, 2670; 26 U.S.C. §§ 3304(a)(6)(A), 3309(a); see 26 U.S.C. § 3306(c)(7).) States which did not alter their unemployment compensation laws accordingly faced loss of the federal tax credit and administrative subsidy.

The Legislature thereafter adopted chapter 2/78 to conform California's system to Public Law 94-566. Among other things, chapter 2/78 effectively requires the state

Page 142

and all local governments, beginning January[785 P.2d 525] 1, 1978, to participate in the state unemployment insurance system on behalf of their employees. (Stats.1978, ch. 2, §§ 12, 24, 31, 36.5, 58-61, pp. 12-14, 16, 18, 24-27; Unemp.Ins.Code, §§ 135, subd. (a), 605, 634.5, 802-804.)

In November 1979, the voters adopted Proposition 4, adding article XIII B to the state Constitution. Article XIII B--the so-called "Gann limit"--restricts the amounts state and local governments may [50 Cal.3d 59] appropriate and spend each year from the "proceeds of taxes." (§§ 1, 3, 8, subds. (a)-(c).) 1 In language similar to that of earlier statutes, article XIII B also requires state reimbursement of resulting local costs whenever, after January 1, 1975, "the Legislature or any state agency mandates a new program or higher level of service on any local government,...." (§ 6.) Such mandatory state subventions are excluded from the local agency's spending limit, but included within the state's. (§ 8, subds. (a), (b).) Finally, article XIII B excludes from either the state or local spending limit any "[a]ppropriations required for purposes of complying with mandates of the courts or the federal government which, without discretion, require an expenditure for additional services or which unavoidably make the providing of existing services more costly." (§ 9, subd. (b) [hereafter section 9(b) ], italics added.)

The City of Sacramento (City) and the County of Los Angeles (County) filed claims with the State Board of Control (Board) (see Rev. & Tax.Code, former § 2250 et seq.; see now Gov.Code, § 17550 et seq.) seeking state subvention of the costs imposed on them by chapter 2/78 during 1978 and portions of 1979. The Board denied the claims, ruling that chapter 2/78 was an enactment required by federal law and thus was not a reimbursable state mandate. On mandamus (Code CivProc., § 1094.5; Rev. & Tax.Code, former § 2253.5, see now Gov.Code, § 17559), the Sacramento Superior Court overruled the Board and found the costs reimbursable. The court ordered the Board to determine the amounts of the City's and the County's individual claims, and also to adopt "parameters and guidelines" to be applied in determining "these ... and other claims" arising under chapter 2/78. (Rev. & Tax.Code, former § 2253.2; see now Gov.Code, §§ 17555, 17557.) 2

In City of Sacramento v. State of California (1984) 156 Cal.App.3d 182, 203 Cal.Rptr. 258 (hereafter Sacramento I ), the Court of Appeal affirmed. Among other things, the court concluded (pp. 194-199, 203 Cal.Rptr. 258) that chapter 2/78 [50 Cal.3d 60] imposed state-mandated costs reimbursable under section 6 of article XIII B, since the potential loss of federal funds and tax credits did not render Public Law 94-566 so coercive as to constitute a "[mandate ] ... of the federal government" under section 9(b). (Italics added.) We denied hearing.

On remand, the Board determined the amounts due on the claims originally submitted by the City and the County. As required by the judgment, the Board also adopted "parameters and guidelines" for reimbursement of chapter 2/78 costs to all affected local agencies. However, during the 1984 session of the Legislature, no bills were introduced for reimbursement of pre-1984 costs, and bills to fund costs in and after 1984 failed passage.

[785 P.2d 526]

Page 143

From and after the decision in Sacramento I, the City paid "under protest" its quarterly billings from the Employment Development Department (EDD) for unemployment compensation. Each payment included a claim for refund of unemployment taxes pursuant to Unemployment Insurance Code section 1176 et seq. EDD responded to the refund claims by referring the City to its statutory subvention remedies.

Accordingly, in July 1985, the City began returning its quarterly billings unpaid. It thereupon commenced the instant class action in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of all local governments in the state. Named as defendants were the State of California, the Governor, EDD, the state Controller and Treasurer, and the Legislature. The complaint sought (1) injunctive and declaratory relief barring enforcement of chapter 2/78 in the absence of state subvention; (2) a writ of mandate directing that past, current, and future subvention funds be appropriated and disbursed, and/or that EDD pay local agencies' past, current, and...

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