There is little debate that California is a harsh, anti-taxpayer environment ruled by a tax-happy majority party. However, in this super-partisan environment that grips both California and the entire nation, it is important to point out when our political adversaries do something positive.
In that spirit, let’s acknowledge what Gov. Gavin Newsom did right for California’s taxpayers.
First, he vetoed Senate Bill 268, which would have weakened important tax transparency laws that the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association fought hard to enact several years ago. Specifically, SB268 sought to alter Assembly Bill 809 and AB195 (2015-2016) which, taken together, require that the rate of a tax, its duration, and amount of money sought to be raised be included in the ballot label for local bond and special tax measures, including parcel taxes. That ensures that this critical information is visible to voters on the ballot itself, and not just printed in a separate voter information pamphlet.
The ballot label is commonly the last thing taxpayers see before voting on a measure, and is the most accessible way to reach voters. SB268 would have removed this information for local bonds and some parcel taxes, to instead bury it in the voter information guide, far from the eyes of most voters.
Local governments have had to comply with these straightforward transparency requirements since 2016, and 82 percent of these measures still passed. Municipalities should have nothing to fear from informed voters. In expressing concern that the bill will reduce transparency, Newsom’s veto was exactly right.
Newsom also vetoed a bill that would have severely encumbered the people’s right to direct democracy, the power of initiative and referendum. That bill, Assembly Bill 1451, would have required that 10 percent of the signatures gathered for a statewide initiative must come from non-paid signature gatherers, and it would have prohibited paying signature gatherers on a per-signature basis.
The effect of this bill would have been to make it more difficult and expensive to qualify initiatives for the ballot. Contrary to the arguments of the author, having to pay petition gatherers on a non-signature basis would actually increase the influence of money in politics.
Another worthy target for the governor’s veto was Senate Bill 5, which would have resurrected “redevelopment,” ostensibly for the purpose of building more affordable housing. While all acknowledge the need for more housing, SB5 placed fiscal obligations on the state that would have tied the hands of future legislatures.
The bill also would have allowed massive new debts at the local level without voter approval, and it lacked protections for property owners from having their property taken by eminent domain.
Finally, it wasn’t just a handful of vetoes that were pro-taxpayer actions. Newsom also signed into law a bill strongly supported by HJTA. Assembly Bill 133 expanded the scope of California’s Property Tax Postponement Program (PTP), which has helped thousands of low-income Californians who are seniors, blind or disabled to stay in their homes.
AB133 made even more people eligible for the optional tax postponement by increasing the income limit from $35,500 to $45,000, and then adjusting that figure for inflation.
While the totality of Newsom’s legislative agenda tilts against taxpayers and will continue to inflict harm on the Golden State, we’re honest observers and we’re willing to call the balls and strikes objectively.
The governor deserves credit for a few good calls.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.