Report to Taxpayers from the Front in the Budget Battle

Last week saw several significant clashes in the budget war between those who have vowed not to raise taxes and those who would raise taxes in a heartbeat. Both sides lost some and won some but on balance the taxpayer defenders came out better and stronger.

The biggest fight of course occurred on Sunday when an actual budget vote was taken in the Assembly. Not only did the Republicans hold firm but one Democrat refused to vote for the budget — Nicole Parra — because she vowed to hold out for a water deal for her Central Valley district. She was immediately banished from the Capitol by Democrat leadership and she now occupies a small office in a decrepit office building across the street.

Like Lou Correa another Democrat punished last year by party bosses Parra immediately secured hero status in her district. What the new Speaker Karen Bass failed to grasp is that the Legislature is so reviled by voters now that if a member is being punished they must have done something right. Bass despite her friendly outward demeanor has by this action shown that it is going to be politics as usual. And by punishing Parra Bass has also demonstrated that she is politically tone deaf.

The week also saw Governor Schwarzenegger slide a little further into irrelevancy. Trying out the tough guy image one more time he commanded the Republicans to "come out of their ideological corners" and meet in the middle. At least that’s what he says. What he actually means is that he wants the Legislative Republicans to do as he has done — move completely to the Democrat side. California taxpayers are fortunate that the legislative Republicans are not disposed to accept his invitation. They actually take their campaign promises not to raise taxes seriously.

Speaking of Arnold I was cleaning my office last week and I came across a 3-ring binder entitled Phil Angelides Tax Increases. Produced by the Reelect Arnold campaign 2 years ago it was a slick very effective compendium of all the tax increases Californians would likely suffer if Angelides were elected governor. The document was produced to remind everyone that the very centerpiece of Arnold’s reelection campaign was based on his hard pledge never to raise taxes. Some of those very proposals we were warned against are now being pushed by Arnold himself.

Turning to media coverage the Sacramento Bee in an effort to describe how we got into this budget mess had a full page spread including a graphic with various "milestones" in recent California history that contributed to the fiasco. First of course was Proposition 13. Ah yes the seminal cause of California’s decline into fiscal insanity. The only problem is that even adjusted for inflation and population increases California has far more revenue than it did in the ’60s and ’70s. (Remember those days when we had education and transportation systems that actually worked?)

Missing from the Bee’s "milestones" was what happened in 1968. That year marked the passage of the Meyers-Milius-Brown Act legalizing collective bargaining for public sector workers. Virtually all our budgetary ills today can be traced to the inordinate political power of the public employee unions.

Also absent from any discussion of the budget from the Democrats and the Governor is the extraordinary level of waste fraud and abuse with how we spend our tax dollars now. The Governor who launched the long-overdue "California Performance Review" project has said nary a word this past year about government efficiencies. That’s too bad because it wasn’t just Republicans pushing this idea. Hundreds of long serving state employees working in concert with experts from some of California’s best think tanks produced comprehensive studies — with specific recommendations — on how to get much more out of government and bring performance-based management to public agencies. The whole CPR project was dropped and all those who worked so hard are still bitter.

Also in a bizarre twist of "Tax Me More Tax Me More" 48 wealthy Californians signed a letter saying they are willing to pay higher taxes. Good for them. We invite them to whip out their checkbooks and start writing. As for the rest of us we see no reason to feed an already overfed government behemoth. Good government at a fair price is not too much to ask. Other states have it — why not California?

Finally at the end of the week a handful of business organizations publicly supported the Governor’s proposed tax increase. No comment here is necessary about how the Governor and his top policy folks use a combination of carrots and sticks to get the business community to say what they want them to say. The carrot here is some minor changes (albeit good) for workplace rules and the modification of the 40-hour work week.

With all due respect to our friends at the Chamber of Compromise they like all folks on the private sector side of the ledger ought not to settle for such table scraps.

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.