The Year of the Billionaire

For the Chinese 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. For beleaguered California taxpayers this may be the Year of the Billionaire.

Of the half dozen or so potential November ballot measures designed to raise taxes nearly half are actively sponsored by billionaires. While other tax proposals are being backed by extremely well-healed special interests they will be the subject of a future column.

Here is where the ultra-rich individuals are putting their money.

Tom Steyer a billionaire hedge fund manager with major investments in renewable energy is promoting a $1.1 billion tax on out of state businesses with operations in California to fund renewable energy projects. His initiative would make California an even more hostile place for businesses to operate likely kill jobs and raise consumer prices while diverting taxpayer money to corporate welfare for tycoons such as himself. In 2010 Californians voters rejected the same tax increase on out of state businesses by a 58% to 42% margin

Molly Munger wants to increase income taxes on everyone to raise $10 billion annually. Munger is the daughter of billionaire Charles Munger a partner of Warren Buffett at Berkshire Hathaway and is a Los Angeles civil rights lawyer. She has been credited for devoting some of her considerable fortune to support early childhood education but she now seems intent on compelling everyone else to support the cause she has selected. Regardless of her good intentions forcing taxpayers to cough up another $10 billion will be a substantial additional burden in a state that already ranks third highest in income tax rates.

For shear wackiness there is the proposal of the Think Long Committee funded by Nicolas Berggruen who is often called “the homeless billionaire” because he lives in hotels and does not own a home. The proposal would raise taxes $10 billion on all Californians by charging sales taxes on services after reducing income taxes on the wealthy.

Let’s see if we have this right. If Berggruen gets his way ordinary Californians will pay more every time they get a haircut take a jacket to the drycleaners call a plumber or even hire a clown or magician to entertain at their child’s birthday party while billionaires like Berggruen will get a tax break. Sound too zany to pass? Well it is still a potent threat because it has the support of a handful of other billionaires as well as two failed former governors Davis and Schwarzenegger and former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown all three of whom presided over periods of lavish irresponsible state spending.

So why would extremely rich people be trying to increase the tax burden on average Californians? Well it may be as simple as some of them are genuinely interested in using other people’s money to help what they believe are good causes while for others it’s just good old fashioned greed — the measures they support will help themselves.

Whatever their motivations one is reminded of the 1992 debate between then President George H.W. Bush and candidate Bill Clinton during which the president was asked the cost of a gallon of milk. He could not answer.

Chances are that if these affluent tax backers were asked the price of a gallon of milk or of gasoline they too could not answer or if they could they would not consider the cost of consequence. These are folks who do not share the concerns of California working families and refuse to see how much more difficult the lives of average folks will become if they are successful in passing their tax increase proposals.

And how’s this for a coincidence? In the Chinese horoscope the Dragon is said to believe rules and regulations are made for other people. What we have with these tax increase efforts is billionaires trying to make the rules for the rest of us.

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.