Fighting for Taxpayers in the Capitol: Against the Odds

One of the most famous quotes from the American Revolution was uttered by Sam Adams: “It does not take a majority to prevail … but rather an irate tireless minority keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.” As fiscal conservatives in a fiscally irresponsible state we at Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association often find ourselves in the minority when trying to advance pro-taxpayer principles in the legislature — especially with our current crop of politicians.

While HJTA may be better known for our initiatives and victories in the courtroom some might overlook the fact that we also maintain a fulltime lobbying presence in Sacramento. Our top legislative priority every year of course is stopping the direct attacks on Prop 13. As part of the California Constitution however Prop 13 cannot be amended or repealed by statute — only by a proposed constitutional amendment emanating from the legislature with a two-thirds vote of each house. While fiscal conservatives in the Legislature don’t come close to a majority they do constitute (barely) more than a third. Because of that and because hundreds of thousands of our members sign petitions to their legislators demanding that Prop 13 be protected we have successfully stopped these efforts to weaken or repeal California’s most popular law.

But in addition to these proposed constitutional amendments are literally hundreds of bills that affect taxpayers. Some are very technical and involve complex fiscal or regulatory issues. But HJTA is frequently the only voice on behalf of ordinary citizens which engages on these matters.

To illustrate the following report from former Legislative Advocate, David Wolfe is for the final day of the legislative session that just ended on August 31st.

HJTA Legislative Report for August 31st

Positive outcome on five bills HJTA targeted on the final day of session:

AB 1998 (Brownley): This bill was featured earlier in the year in another HJTA column. A classic ‘nanny government’ proposal AB 1998 was the infamous “bag tax” bill which have added nearly a billion dollars of costs to consumers and killed a thousand jobs. AB 1998 was defeated 14-21 in the Senate.

AB 2483 (Coto): AB 2483 failed to clarify that fees for groundwater charges were subject to an election under HJTA’s Proposition 218. Because this issue is the subject of active HJTA litigation (North San Joaquin) we asked that the bill be tabled. Because of numerous drafting errors and other problems it failed to receive sufficient votes to get off the Senate Floor.

AB 155 (Mendoza): Would have imposed burdensome state process prior to a local government declaring bankruptcy. Sponsored by government employee unions this bill would have made it nearly impossible for a local government to renegotiate oppressive union contracts. In a rare alliance with the League of California Cities and the California Special Districts Association we were able to keep the measure from coming up for a vote before midnight on August 31st.

AB 1718: (Blumenfield): A bill to reestablish the property tax postponement program as a voluntary program run by the counties. While HJTA was originally supportive of the bill an undefined uncapped “fee” was inserted in the bill against the interests of homeowners. Moreover this bill was jammed through the Legislature with virtually no transparency. It was completely rewritten in July and received no committee hearings in the Assembly. HJTA worked hard to draw attention to the bill and we were thankful for the speeches given by our legislative allies including members Ted Gaines and Diane Harkey. Although this measure was ultimately approved there remains a high likelihood of a gubernatorial veto.

SB 1398 (DeSaulnier): This bill transferred over $2 million from special districts in Contra Costa County to the Oakley Redevelopment Agency in order to incentivize and site a power plant. As a property rights organization HJTA has long been suspicious of complex redevelopment projects. Here the Public Utilities Commission last month denied PG&E’s application to build the power plant leading us to question whether the bill was necessary or even whether the plant would be built in Oakley. Our greatest concern with this bill was that it reflected an unwarranted exception to carefully crafted protections enacted into redevelopment law especially as it relates to the requirement that a portion of revenues be used for housing.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.