California’s 2019 legislative session recently came to a merciful end. Despite the fact that the Legislature passed dozens of bills assaulting basic economic rights, it could have been far worse for taxpayers. Indeed, in remarkably good news, the most dangerous threat to Proposition 13 was defeated.
Proposition 13 has been called the third rail of California politics. Touch it, and the electric shock risks ending your political career. However, few have been as virulent in their hatred of Proposition 13 as Asm. Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters. She introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, a bill to make it easier to raise taxes at the local level by lowering the vote needed to approve bonds and special taxes from two-thirds to just 55 percent.
Typically, direct assaults on Prop. 13 fail to receive votes of the full Assembly or Senate because it is difficult for Democrats in marginal or suburban districts to support them. But, emboldened by the fact that Democrats have a supermajority in the Assembly, Aguiar-Curry attempted to muscle the bill through. ACA 1 received just 44 votes, ten votes shy of the 54 needed for passage. Seventeen of 61 Democrats either opposed or abstained on the bill.
While we are thankful that Proposition 13 remains intact, we are under no illusions that the battle is over. Aguiar-Curry has already publicly pledged that she intends to try again.
The defeat of ACA 1 is not the only victory for taxpayers. Interestingly, a number of punishing tax-hike proposals never came up for full legislative votes.
These included Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which would have lowered the vote required to pass local education parcel taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent. Other proposals that didn’t make it to floor votes were taxes on handguns and ammunition, sweetened beverages, water from your tap, opioids, tires, and oil as it comes up out of the ground.
Also not coming up for a vote were proposals for an estate tax in addition to the federal exaction, and a sales tax on previously exempt business-to-business services. All told, Californians were spared tens of billions of dollars in tax hikes because the proposals stalled early in the legislative process.
Unfortunately, two taxes were passed by the Legislature. Assembly Bill 142 doubles the existing $1 car battery tax at the point of sale to $2. Two Republicans provided the critical votes for passage. The other tax was Senate Bill 96, which will impose a surcharge of up to 70 cents per month on your cell phone bill to pay for a new statewide 911 emergency service.
Recent devastating disasters in Paradise, Sonoma/Napa County and Montecito highlight the need for an upgrade. But the surcharge could result in revenue totaling $400 million annually, far more than the $175 million of one-time funds needed to replace the system. This tax hike is yet another example of California’s misplaced priorities because funding public safety should always have the first call on general fund revenue without the need to raise taxes.
Why were several Democrats reluctant to jump on the tax hike train? Two reasons stand out. The first was the recall of Josh Newman, the state senator who was removed from office following his votes on the gas tax, cap-and-trade, and single-payer health care. Second, the abysmal failure of Measure EE, a large parcel tax proposal by Los Angeles Unified, has caused politicians to rethink California’s appetite for higher taxes.
What remains clear is that no matter how large the supermajority, it is still possible to fight for taxpayers, and when the public is informed about what its government is doing, it‘s the taxpayers who come out on the winning side.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.