Hard fought battles stop tax hikes in Legislature

While on the campaign trail prior to the 1988 election, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush uttered the now infamous words, “read my lips, no new taxes.” Of course, this was a pledge he broke, which likely cost him reelection.

The mission of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is to protect Proposition 13 and to advance taxpayers’ rights, including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, this value set is shared by too few politicians in Sacramento.

Because of that, taxpayers rarely are able to obtain meaningful reform in the state Capitol. California’s reputation for high taxes and burdensome regulations is well deserved and taxpayers are usually able to obtain relief only through the powers of direct democracy including initiative, referendum and recall.

While many wish this wasn’t the case, the stark reality is that legislators have voted for eight taxes (six of which became law) since 2012. In nearly all instances it was Republicans (usually opposed to higher taxes) who joined with tax-and-spend Democrats to provide the final vote for tax increases ranging from car registrations, to gas taxes, to lumber and battery assessments and mattresses.

Thankfully though, no taxes were approved in 2018.

Don’t misunderstand, the tax-and-spend lobby wasn’t taking the year off just because of the upcoming November election. If anything, they were eager to follow up on their three victories last year, which included the infamous gas tax and a tax on recorded documents. Governor Brown made it clear in 2016 that he desired a permanent source of revenue to fund transportation, affordable housing, and clean water programs. He got the first two last year so only the water tax remained.

The fight over the water tax was very contentious. First, no one doubted the importance of having access to clean water, particularly in the Central Valley where decades of neglect and mismanagement of water systems created the problem in the first place. But imposing a dollar-a-month tax on all residential water users in the state to address a local problem made no sense. The cost to fix the problem was estimated to be $120 million of one-time money, which reflects a tiny percentage of California’s General Fund budget. Thankfully, Senate Bill 623 failed before the Legislature’s summer recess in July and taxpayers and their allies, mostly California’s local water agencies, breathed a sigh of relief.

A last-minute attempt was made to revive the tax by making it a “voluntary opt-in” levy. Despite intense lobbying for the bill, the water tax still didn’t have the votes and, like the earlier version, was killed in the waning hours of the session.

Then there was the proposed tax on cell phone service to fund upgrades in California’s emergency 911 system. Like water, this too is a legitimate problem, with a one-time cost to fix of about $170 million. And, as with the water tax, HJTA suggested that this program could have been funded out of the General Fund.  After all, it was unquestionably a critical issue of public safety as well as a state-wide problem. But the tax on cell phone service proposed by the Legislature was grossly flawed as it would have generated far more than $170 million and the tax would have been permanent. Given these flaws, Republicans in the state Senate held the line and the tax failed to receive a two-thirds vote.

Taxpayer victories in 2018 were not limited to stopping these two tax proposals. Proposition 13’s property tax cap and two-thirds vote remains 100 percent protected. Taxes on opioids, fireworks, guns, a sales tax on services and taxes on small businesses that contract with prisons all went down to defeat. At least for the few remaining months of 2018, taxpayers can smile and say “read my lips, no new taxes!”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.