In 2018, San Francisco voters approved, by simple majority vote, two new gross receipts taxes: the Homelessness Gross Receipts Tax (SF-HT) and the Commercial Rents Tax (SF-CRT), with both taxes effective as of January 1, 2019. Because these taxes fund specific governmental services, they are designated as special taxes (specifically, the SF-HT funds homelessness services and the SF-CRT funds early childhood education). Since the California Constitution specifies that special taxes imposed by local government need two-thirds voter approval (i.e., a “supermajority”), taxpayer groups have filed lawsuits to invalidate these special taxes, as both were approved by only a majority vote (61% for the SF-HT and 51% for the SF-CRT). As discussed more fully below, the courts have ruled against these taxpayer groups and the California Supreme Court to date has refused review.
The pressing question is whether San Francisco taxpayers, who paid the SF-HT and/or the SF‑CRT for 2019 and 2020, should be filing claims to protect their rights to refunds in the unlikely (but not impossible) event that these taxes are ultimately rendered invalid.