Can Legislators Handle the Truth?

In the stirring courtroom scene from A Few Good Men Jack Nicholson’s character responds to a pointed question with “You can’t handle the truth!”

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has just released its annual Legislative Report Card and now we are going to find out if our elected representatives can handle the truth. Seventy-nine out of 120 members of the Legislature received grades of “F” for failing to use their votes to defend the interests of California taxpayers.

The Report Card ignores what most “Sacramento insiders” find important: Special interest legislation promoted by well-paid lobbyists. HJTA doesn’t care about political party affiliation campaign war chests or how long a member has served in the Legislature. We do care about the interests of taxpayers and so ask a very fundamental question: Did legislators protect homeowners allow hard working Californians to keep more money in their wallets and protect their right to engage in their democracy through the initiative process? These are the truths that matter.

For the first time in a number of years legitimate two-thirds vote tax hikes were taken up by both houses of the Legislature. These included: AB 1500 a tax hike on business AB 1492 which placed a one percent sales tax hike on the purchase of lumber products at Home Depot and Lowe’s and SB 1455 a bill that increased a number of different vehicle taxes. While only one passed the Legislature and was signed into law the bills received dozens of votes. In response we deducted 15 points for each favorable tax vote guaranteeing an F vote if a legislator voted for all three. Taken cumulatively the taxes would have resulted in a $3.4 billion hit to businesses and homeowners not insignificant when residents already pressured by high taxes are continuing to flee the tarnished Golden State in droves each year.

Another major factor in determining the final score for members of the Assembly was Assembly Constitutional Amendment 18 a bill that undermined Proposition 13 by establishing a majority vote — instead of the current two-thirds — for property parcel taxes approved at the local level. It is extremely rare that Constitutional Amendments attacking Proposition 13 get full votes on the Assembly Floor because legislators realize how popular Proposition 13 is. ACA 18 only received 43 votes 11 short of the amount needed for approval.

In 2012 a record 79 lawmakers flunked despite the fact that as has been our practice we have given half-credit for all vote abstentions on bills. We recognize that legislators are constantly buffeted by special interests and their own leadership and we want to ensure that those who don’t vote for bills that increase the burden on taxpayers are rewarded accordingly.

Twenty carefully selected legislative bills were used to judge whether a legislator was a friend or foe to citizen taxpayers. Scores were generally negative across the board. Even though up to a third of HJTA members are democrats those legislators with a “D” behind their name mostly scored low. Regrettably independent Nathan Fletcher and Republican Cameron Smyth also received failing grades. But Republicans had a few stars. 25 received “A” grades this year with nine receiving perfect scores. These are:

– State Senator Joel Anderson
– Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (Second consecutive perfect score)
– State Assemblywoman Beth Gaines
– State Senator Ted Gaines
– State Assemblyman Martin Garrick
– Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (Second consecutive perfect score)
– State Senate-Elect Steve Knight
– Assemblyman Mike Morrell (Second consecutive perfect score)
– State Senator Mimi Walters

2013 is a year that promises many challenges. Democrats have gained a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses making it much easier to raise taxes if they choose to do so. However we remain encouraged by how difficult it is to get taxes through the legislature and on a bipartisan basis support for Proposition 13 remains strong. And that is a truth we all can handle.

To see HJTA’s 2012 Report Card please click here.

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.