Although comparisons to actual wartime fighting should be used sparingly, California taxpayers can’t help but feel a bit like the 20th Maine Regiment at the battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. The actions of the 20th Maine, depicted in the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara, are well known to Civil War buffs.
Led by Joshua Chamberlain, who later became Governor of Maine, the 20th Regiment became famous for its defense of Little Round Top, a small hill on the flank of the Union forces. On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine was positioned at the far left of the Union line with elements of the 44th New York, 16th Michigan, and 83rd Pennsylvania. As the Confederacy began its attack, Chamberlain was alerted that the enemy seemed to be pushing toward the regiment’s left. Chamberlain ordered a right-angle formation, extending his line farther to the east.
After an hour and a half under heavy attack and running low on ammunition, Chamberlain saw the rebels forming for another push and ordered a charge down the hill with fixed bayonets, which caught the enemy by surprise. During the charge, a second Confederate line tried to make a stand near a stone wall. The isolated group of Union soldiers, now in a position from which to provide the rest of the regiment with support, fired into the Confederate’s rear, giving the impression that the 20th Maine had been joined by another regiment. This, coupled with the surprise of Chamberlain’s bold attack, caused panic among the Southerners’ ranks.
The Confederates scattered, ending the attack on the hill. If the 20th Maine had retreated instead, the entire line would have been flanked and the Union likely would have lost Gettysburg. Most Civil War historians agree that holding the hill helped the Union win Gettysburg and turn the tide of the war.
What is notable about the 20th Maine was the number of direct assaults launched directly against its ranks. Time and time again, enemy forces assailed the small force made up of mostly farmers, woodsmen and fishermen. Chamberlain himself was no professional soldier, but rather the Professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin College.
Like the constant attacks on the 20th Maine, which depleted both the energy and ammunition of its members, political forces in California are lined up against taxpayers ready to make a final push as the current legislative session enters its final few weeks. The question is whether taxpayers and their allies in the Legislature – mostly Republicans – can repel all the tax hikes being proposed.
The proposals are many, varied and all dangerous. Senate Constitutional Amendment 5 seeks to rip Prop 13 protections away from business owners, including tens of thousands of mom and pop stores. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4 seeks to lower the two-thirds vote for local taxes which, if passed, will subject local citizens to massive new tax hikes. In a special session, which is not subject to the same time deadlines as the regular legislative session, there will be a huge push for new transportation taxes, slamming middle class working Californians who rely on their cars for both work and their family life.
Fortunately, there is plenty of ammunition taxpayers can use to counter the assault, starting with the argument that California is already a high tax state with a hostile regulatory environment that has driven many of its citizens and businesses to more friendly jurisdictions. Also, taxpayers will surely assert that, with a $6 billion surplus, the last thing we should be talking about is tax hikes. Finally, government waste in California continues to eat up tens of billions of dollars annually. All these contentions must be brought to the fore if taxpayers are to be victorious in stopping those who want even more money out of our pockets.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.