Rumors abound that the Big Five have agreed in concept to a budget solution. As the details of the plan are presented to the legislators who will have to vote on it taxpayers hope that those who call themselves fiscal conservatives remember a few basic principles.
First it is far better to have no budget solution at all than to acquiesce to a bad budget solution i.e. one that adds to California’s already crushing tax burden. This is not to advocate for continued gridlock. This is to advocate for the economic survival of the state.
We are cognizant of the substantial political pressure from many corners to get a deal — any deal — no matter what the merits. And the fear has been expressed that the failure to address quickly the severe cash flow problem will hurt Republicans because they are more likely to be portrayed by the main stream media as the obstructionists. In short the "optics" of some tragedy — for example the death of a recipient of in-home health services — is more likely to hurt those who hold the line on taxes.
To accept this thinking would be a tragic mistake. No doubt those stories will come. But the Republicans in the Legislature should be ready to deal with them and there are plenty of us on the outside who are willing to lend support. Every time there is a tragic story due to the lack of a budget solution fiscal conservatives must point to specific examples of the waste fraud and abuse at all levels of government. Just yesterday the Sacramento Bee reported on the vast amount of local government spending on lobbying. Couldn’t this (future) tragedy could have been averted if taxpayer dollars had been spent where they were most needed?
Whether it is the millions of dollars the Controller is spending on furniture a $2 million TV studio for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors lavish junkets excessive pay and pensions the list of wasted taxpayer dollars is endless. Which brings us to the ultimate point that Republican legislators must remember: There will be no prioritizing of spending by the left if you give them more money.
A second principle which bears repeating is that there is no such thing as a temporary tax increase. Although the Republicans may believe that such an agreed to "temporary" tax has a fixed termination date all it will take by our well-funded adversaries is to put a measure on the ballot to make it permanent. The tax eaters know that a campaign to "keep an existing tax" is a lot easier than campaigning for a new tax. After all it’s for the children.
Third Republicans must remember that despite their fewer numbers they are in a powerful bargaining position. Not only does the state constitution empower them due to the two-thirds vote requirement they can truthfully represent to the Democrats and the Governor that their constituents — voters more likely to be net tax payers versus net tax receivers — will surely exact a high political price on any Republican that votes for tax hikes. For that reason any revenue enhancement must come at an equally high cost for the Democrats. In other words it is time that the tax eaters become equally invested in addressing waste fraud and abuse. They’ve never had to do that before because they’ve always believed themselves to be entitled to a blank check. Those days are over.
Finally we hope it is not lost on Republican legislators that it will be far easier to defend them both collectively and individually in the next election cycle if there has been fidelity to the principle that Californians are already overtaxed. If they are worried about the optics of a continued budget stalemate we would respectfully suggest that those optics are not nearly so negative as the optics of a Republican party that can’t hold true to the one last principle that holds it together.
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.