It has been 29 years since the passage of Proposition 13 and the whining by public officials continues. Somewhere Howard Jarvis is chuckling.
After the passage of Proposition 13 many believed it heralded a new day in the relationship between government and taxpayers not just in California but nationally. Even the President of the United States Jimmy Carter acknowledged the message sent by voters who overwhelmingly approved a measure to in the words of Jarvis "Ax your taxes."
Jarvis had worked on tax reform in California for 15 years before achieving success with Proposition 13. During that time he endured vitriol and vilification from those in the public sector. While campaigning for Proposition 13 he listened to self-serving lies by public officials about what would be the impact of the tax cutting measure — no teachers no police and no firefighters. He was called crazy by some for challenging the established view that those in government know best.
Yes Howard Jarvis was crazy — crazy like a fox. Of all the epithets hurled at Jarvis no one ever said he was stupid.
When Proposition 13 passed he knew the fight for taxpayer emancipation was not over. Those in government whose power and livelihood was dependent on the unfettered ability to tax and spend would continue to attack Proposition 13’s limitation on tax increases and its requirement that people be allowed to vote on new local taxes. Proposition 13 stood foursquare in the way of unrestricted government growth paid for by private citizens and those in the public sector would not give up easily.
To defend against the constant attacks on Proposition 13 and the rights that taxpayers gained with its passage — Jarvis said they would blame the eruption of Mt. St. Helens on Proposition 13 if they could — he founded a professional organization now called the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. And believe me we have seen it all. Everything from the destruction of freeways during the Loma Prieta earthquake to the failure to convict O.J. Simpson has been blamed on Proposition 13. In the Legislature and through the initiative we have seen continuous efforts to erode Proposition 13.
Just this year a bill was introduced in the Legislature that if passed would have altered Proposition 13 to make it easier to raise local taxes and to pass bonds that would increase the burden on homeowners. However the bill’s author Jared Huffman a freshman Assemblyman from San Rafael was discouraged by the response from the public once the word got out and he has at least for the moment given up this attempt to undermine our favorite tax limiting initiative.
But still the whining about Proposition 13 continues. In the last two weeks we have seen three news articles two about school art programs and one about libraries in the city of Redding in which public officials have blamed Proposition 13 for financial problems. Apparently they think that if they repeat this canard often enough like a mantra it will become fact. There can be no doubt that being anti-13 continues to be part of the culture of the bureaucracy. But after nearly three decades it is time to face the facts.
Studies show that after adjusting for inflation and population growth California governments at all levels have more money now than they did prior to the passage of Proposition 13. And yes this includes schools. In constant dollars we spend 30 percent more per pupil than we did 29 years ago. There is plenty of money to do the important tasks of government — unless of course it is mismanaged through waste fraud or abuse.
California ranks 8th out of 50 in per capita taxation so there is also plenty of tax burden — we are all doing our part and then some.
However Proposition 13 may be lacking at least one element. When crafting the measure Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann failed to mandate that public officials be wise and act in a responsible manner. And oh yes they also forgot to require an end to the common cold.
It really is time for public officials and bureaucrats throughout the state to stop whining and get back to work.
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.