Cue the opening theme from the old “Untouchables” TV show that portrayed federal agents fighting Prohibition Era organized crime. In this week’s episode two men carrying baseball bats enter a small store and tell the proprietor they are selling “insurance.” The first payment is due now.
This is referred to by law enforcement as a “protection racket.”
Today two Sacramento politicians have come up with a new approach to the old extortion game. In the updated version of the protection racket those being extorted aren’t just shopkeepers but everyday working people and their families and those selling protection Senate Pro Tem Darrell “The Enforcer” Steinberg and state Treasurer Bill “Leg Breaker” Lockyer may not be wearing fedoras but they are nearly as menacing as the old gangsters. The threat? If you don’t make a payoff by agreeing to higher taxes you will be targeted with the loss of state services.
That’s right in a recent interview Bill Lockyer recommended that services to California residents whose Representatives refuse to support higher taxes. “If you don’t want to pay for government well then you get less of it” he said. Steinberg agreed saying he is open to cutting basic services for adults in districts represented by Republicans who oppose increasing taxes.
With their approach it would not be surprising to find out “The Enforcer” and “Leg Breaker” learned their trade as schoolyard bullies shaking down weaker students for their lunch money. Now that they have grabbed the levers of government power they are holding up beleaguered Californians who are already paying some of the highest taxes in all fifty states. If you refuse to support additional taxes that will cost the average family a $1000 annually your services will be cut and your share will be redistributed to areas represented by lawmakers who support the “bosses'” agenda.
This is not a frivolous matter. For example a vital service provided by the state is Cal Fire. Does this mean that in the event of a major conflagration Steinberg and Locker will be out with clipboards checking off whose homes are to be saved and whose are to burn? And what about emergency services in the event of a disastrous earthquake?
Californians already feel beaten down. The economy is sputtering and unemployment remains at record highs. Businesses and the jobs they provide are fleeing the state because of high taxes and a government that continues to be hostile to the private sector. Although the number of foreclosures seems to be declining this may be due to the fact that the homes of the most vulnerable have already been seized certainly nothing to celebrate.
Still the politicians in Sacramento refuse to accept the fact that the reason the state has less money is because Californians have less money and these “bully boys” have continued to spend too much. As the old saying goes “You can’t get blood out of a turnip” but this does not seem to make any difference to the politicians who are willing to use strong arm tactics to squeeze every last dollar from taxpayers.
It is clear those who will suffer from this political thuggery are the regular people regardless of party affiliation and these “protection salesmen” don’t care what pain is imposed upon average folks as long as they get their way.
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.