From the perspective of California taxpayers last week was nothing
short of extraordinary. In the political equivalent of a game of
chicken an attempt by the tax-and-spend legislative majority to
shred the California constitution came up short. And our Governor
did the right thing by vetoing a massive tax increase but questions
remain about the reasons why.
Of course all this started in mid-December when the Democrat
majority jammed through a series of interconnected bills which would
have imposed billions in new taxes. The constitutional requirement
of a two-thirds vote imposed by Proposition 13 was no hurdle as
they simply ignored it. The Republicans repeatedly objected to this
transparent violation but the Democrats ignored them too. The bill
package was deemed passed and over the course of the next two
weeks the Democrat leadership was using the bill package as a
bargaining chip in their negotiations with the Governor.
The Republicans meanwhile had been shut out of the negotiations
because of their radical stance that tax increases would actually
hurt California. (The data not surprisingly supports this radical
Taxpayer advocates weren’t taking this transgression lying down.
Over the holidays a legal team was assembled consisting of Howard
Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorneys John Eastman who is a
constitutional scholar of national reputation and is also the Dean
of Chapman University Law School and Tom Caso former General
Counsel of the highly respected Pacific Legal Foundation.
Rumors abounded as to whether the Governor and the Democrats were
close to a deal. The Governor in his public pronouncements stated
that he would agree to the tax increases if he got what he wanted in
terms of economic stimulus. But on January 6th the lawsuit was
filed directly in the Court of Appeal against the Legislature the
Governor and various state officials having responsibility for
either the processing of legislation or implementation of the taxes.
The Petitioners included Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association every
single Republican Legislator Jon Fleischman Steve Poizner and the
well known talk radio hosts John and Ken from KFI in Los Angeles.
After the filing of the suit events broke very quickly. By 2:30 in
the afternoon the Democrat leadership Assembly Speaker Karen Bass
and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg held a press conference saying
they were going to forward the bills "passed" in December to the
Governor. Up to this point the bills had been retained in the
Legislature. In their press conference Bass and Steinberg made it
sound as if they had been close to a deal with the Governor on the
tax increases but that "he kept moving the goal posts."
For whatever reason it only took the Governor a couple hours to
veto the entire bill package sent to him by the Democrats.
Regrettably his veto message said nothing about his views on the
legality of simple majority vote tax increases.
Nonetheless the Governor deserves praise for vetoing horrible
legislation which would have inflicted immeasurable damage to
Supporters of the Governor in the days after the veto contacted
taxpayer advocates saying that we should take heart that the
Governor has "turned the page" in the budget process by once again
engaging the Republicans in the negotiations. We hope this is true.
Under the plain language of the Constitution there will be no
resolution of this crisis without Republican involvement.
The Governor has also made recent statements that he will pursue
systemic changes in the way California conducts its business
pursuant to the California Performance Review. The CPR process is
something he proposed early in his administration (remember "blowing
up the boxes?") but inexplicably didn’t implement in subsequent
years. His renewed interest is encouraging.
But the real test comes back to the notion that the Legislature can
impose tax increases with a simple majority vote. What is needed
most right now is a strong statement from the Governor that under
his duty to abide by the Constitution there will be no tax
increases unless supported by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Not only would such a statement by the Governor reflect fidelity to
the law it would also enhance his bargaining position for systemic
reforms as well as the economic stimulus package he desires.
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.