The pictures told the story. They were laughing back-slapping and sharing high fives all around. It could have been Butch Cassidy and the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang celebrating a successful train robbery. Only these were malefactors of another sort. They were members of the Legislature expressing their joy immediately after agreeing to make California taxpayers the most overburdened in the nation for at least the next two years.
Lawmakers and the governor who was equally eager to get his hands on the new tax revenue sought to make the bitter medicine taste better by promising the new taxes were temporary — only two years they say — and by making a peace offering of a spending cap that would force state government to be on its best behavior. If taxpayers are wary of California lawmakers bearing gifts they have every reason to be. This spending limit is a limit in name only because it will automatically go up as taxes are increased by the Legislature.
At one time California had a strong spending limit. In 1979 the late Paul Gann co-sponsor of Proposition 13 put a meaningful spending limit on the ballot which was approved by 75 percent of voters. The Gann formula annually adjusted upward the state’s ability to spend based on the growth in population and inflation. If revenues exceeded the spending cap the law required that they be refunded to taxpayers and in 1987 tax rebate checks were actually sent out.
However most members of the Legislature and their special interest allies chafed under the spending restrictions and in 1990 language that knocked out the cap was placed in Proposition 111 a gas tax increase for transportation. When voters approved the tax with the expectation that it would eliminate freeway congestion unknown to many the Gann Limit was destroyed.
Since 1990 Sacramento has spent freely and without conscience. If this so-called budget reform measure is approved by voters at the May 19th special election spending by state government will continue virtually unabated. But it gets worse. If Proposition 1A passes it will do additional damage to taxpayers by extending the new higher taxes for an additional two years.
The situation is reminiscent of the movie "Ruthless People" in which seeking to get even with a ruthless businessman played by Danny DeVito kidnappers hold his wife for ransom. Turns out he doesn’t care. He’s been trying to get rid of his wife anyway.
In this case lawmakers are holding the fake budget reform for a $20 billion ransom. But like DeVito taxpayers should be delighted to let them keep it.
There is something worse than no budget reform. It is a phony budget reform that must be purchased at an astronomical price. This deal is so bad they should be paying us to take it.
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.