Reprieve for Prop 13
By now, most Californians have read dozens of analyses from experts and partisans alike about the meaning of last Tuesday’s election. Analyzing the national scene is not rocket science. Republicans romped and Democrats took a shellacking.
But understanding the impact here in ever-so-blue California is a bit more complicated. While it is true that Republicans, who tend to be more taxpayer friendly, did not win a single statewide seat, the news for fans of Proposition 13 is actually quite good.
Rather than focus on the statewide races, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association was laser focused on using our political muscle to prevent the tax-and-spend majority party from securing the dreaded two-thirds supermajority in both the California Senate and Assembly. The reason why a two-thirds supermajority is so dangerous is two-fold. First, under Proposition 13, taxes imposed by the state cannot be imposed without the two-thirds vote. As long as the minority Republicans hold firm against tax hikes, Californians will be protected. (And it’s not like California needs higher taxes. We already have the highest income tax rate, the highest sales tax rate and the highest gas tax in America).
Second, it takes a two-thirds vote of each house to place a proposed amendment to the California Constitution on the ballot. Had the majority party achieved the supermajority, it could have placed anti-Proposition 13 measures on the ballot at will. But, because the Democrats were thwarted in their efforts, they will have to convince their political allies – principally the public sector unions – to spend several million dollars to collect the necessary signatures to qualify such a proposal.
Another observation about this year’s election is that, as if there were any doubt, the branding of Proposition 13 has never been stronger. Both true Proposition 13 defenders and pretenders used Proposition 13 as a talking point in their campaigns. Turns out that those candidates who were true Proposition 13 defenders – meaning they had the endorsement of the HJTA Political Action Committee – did very well. So much, in fact, that most of the endorsed candidates won, even those whom the pundits thought had little chance of victory.
That Proposition 13 itself was such a centerpiece of this election cycle is astounding. This landmark measure was on the ballot more than 35 years ago and yet incumbent legislators who had bad Proposition 13 votes while in the Legislature suddenly felt vulnerable. A former legislator who was openly anti-Proposition 13 lost badly to an HJTA endorsed candidate, Janet Nguyen, in a contested Senate seat. Her opponent, Jose Solorio, was in such deep trouble that Governor Brown cut one of his very few television ads this election cycle in a failed attempt to save him. As in 1978, Jerry Brown was bested by Proposition 13.
But to those who think that these political victories allow us a chance to rest, think again. Already, the enemies of Proposition 13 are conducting extensive political research – both polling and focus groups – to determine how best to dismantle these critical taxpayer protections. And left leaning anti-taxpayer groups have intensified their efforts to convince local governments and school district boards to pass anti-Proposition 13 “resolutions.” These resolutions may be non-binding, but our adversaries are laying the groundwork for a repeal of Proposition 13 in 2016. That much is very clear.
But for now, let’s enjoy the victories just achieved. Just in time for the coming holiday, taxpayers and homeowners in California have much to be thankful for. And while we realize our reprieve will be short and that we must prepare for battle anew in a few short weeks, these victories give us the much needed hope that California can, once again, become the Golden State it once was.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.