Assemblyman Gives Taxpayers the Foam Finger

While watching my first televised baseball game of the year the camera panned the crowd and then zeroed in on two youngsters wildly waving concession stand foam fingers to express their conviction that the home team is "number one." Of course I knew their beliefs to be mistaken no matter how well intentioned because I am a fan of the visiting ball club and I am certain it is number one.

However seeing these naí¿ve adolescents enthusiastically urging their favorites forward I was reminded of the members of our state Legislature.

As a state California ranks 8th in per capita state and local taxation. Some politicians may counter that we are "only" 12th when our tax burden is measured as a percentage of personal income but either way we are running near the front of the pack in a 50 team league. And according to the latest from the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation the percentage of our income that we Californians provide state and local government is moving up steadily going from 10.5 percent in 2002 to 11.5 percent this year.

Most Sacramento observers recognize that a majority of our state representatives would like to see the tax burden increased so they can more easily pursue their spending ambitions. And it is no exaggeration to say that some lawmakers — who often have a background in social activism and imagine that taxpayers have an unlimited supply of money — will not be satisfied until they can proclaim that when it comes to taxation we are number one.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman a Democrat from San Rafael is the latest to step forward with an idea to wring more from taxpayers. Huffman wants to change the state constitution to dismantle Proposition 13’s mandated two-thirds vote for local special taxes and to reduce the two-thirds vote — established in 1879 — required to pass local bonds that must be repaid by property owners. His legislation ACA 8 would allow local voters with a two thirds vote to reduce the vote threshold needed to approve a tax earmarked for a specific purpose and local general obligation bonds that place a lien on property to guarantee repayment.

If this seems confusing it is doubtful that Huffman will mind. You see with ACA 8 he can claim he is not tax raiser he just wants to enhance majority rule and local control by making it easier for local voters to raise taxes. As he told one reporter "We are hoping this might be the sweet spot that can get this passed statewide."

This is similar to the argument made by the multi-million-dollar campaign that passed Proposition 39 in 2000 and reduced the vote needed to increase property taxes for school bonds. The result is costing property owners billions of dollars. Huffman now wants to reduce the vote required to pass all local bonds.

Surveys show that a two-thirds vote for new taxes is popular with about two-thirds of voters so it is clear how Huffman’s proposal will be used if it becomes law.

First local officials will find a lever to open the door to new taxes. They will begin by focusing on a tax or bond for a popular issue like public safety that is already likely to receive approval of two-thirds of voters. Tax proponents will tell voters that they can assure passage by first voting to lower the local vote to approve special taxes. If voters agree the door is open for good.

Interested in raising sales taxes to build a new stadium for wealthy professional sports team owners as politicians recently attempted in Sacramento? Well you could thank Jared Huffman and his ACA 8 for making it much easier.

Want to increase the burden on local homeowners by passing a bond to provide housing subsidies to newcomers to the city and upper income residents as the Los Angeles City Council tied to do last November? Huffman is your man.

The insidious ACA 8 is the biggest legislative threat to taxpayers especially property tax payers to be proposed in the Legislature in many years and taxpayers must make every effort to guarantee its defeat. Lawmakers cannot be allowed to give taxpayers the foam finger.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.