Polls show that the revenue shifts and tax increases contained in the six measures placed on the May 19th Special Election ballot by the Legislature and governor are not going over well with voters. Californians are angry. They are already paying the highest taxes in the nation and are in no mood to increase taxes at a time when they risk losing their own savings jobs and homes.
In his desperation to get his hands on more taxpayer cash in a declining economy Gov. Schwarzenegger has gone to the old tax raiser standby — threats to public safety. Unfortunately this bullying approach when backed with a fat campaign purse has proven effective in the past.
The trick is to convince enough voters that if there is an emergency and they call 911 the phone will keep ringing and no one will respond. Need a firefighter police officer or paramedic? Sorry because you were such a stingy piker and rejected a tax increase you will not get the services you value most.
The governor has said that if Propositions 1A through 1F do not pass next week he will cut firefighter positions. Issuing this threat was unwise for two reasons. First as was pointed out by radio talk show host John Kobylt of the "John and Ken Show" if the governor was to do this during fire season "He would be run out of town naked."
Second and more important three of the 6 measures on the May 19 ballot have nothing to do with the current budget. Proposition 1F deals with lawmakers’ pay. Proposition 1B addresses the future restoration of education funds. And Proposition 1A although it is a $16 billion tax increase will have no impact for another two years.
The truth of the matter was revealed by the governor’s own Director of Finance Mike Genest in recent testimony before the Commission on the 21st Century Economy. When asked what the impact of Proposition 1A would be in the next two years Genest responded "There wouldn’t be." (For the record after this admission Legislative Analyst Mack Taylor has stated that because of declining revenues California is at least $8 billion short for the current budget year. But that newly estimated revenue forecast has nothing to do with Proposition 1A the lynchpin of the reform package).
So even if the governor were to continue to threaten public safety — he has already shifted his attention to the debate over legalizing marijuana — voters need to understand that they are free to reject Proposition 1A and its additional $16 billion in new taxes without inflicting harm on the state’s current fiscal health. The only ballot measures that impact the current budget are 1C 1D and 1E. Combined these propositions would mortgage the state lottery and shift money from segregated accounts for mental health and early childhood development to bolster the general fund.
Whether Gov. Schwarzenegger truly believes that these measures are in California’s best interests or not he is willing to use coercion to try to win their passage. By threatening fires services he has just sent a very public ransom note to California voters those whose safety at all times should be his top priority. And because he is backed with a campaign war chest of over $15 million much of it from those who would benefit from continuing the record high tax increases he may scare enough voters to give him the victory that he needs to maintain any shred of credibility in his little remaining time in office.
Taxpayers need to hold firm and reject Proposition 1A. They better than the Sacramento elite understand the detrimental impact of higher taxes on the personal economies of California families as well as the economy of the state as a whole.
If Proposition 1A is defeated California voters should receive two awards. First an honorary Ph.D. in economics for understanding that the state cannot tax its way to prosperity and second a medal for bravery for standing up to the bullying threats of the governor.
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.