Republicans didn’t have to vote for cap and trade

Chad Mayes2Last month, eight Republicans in the California Legislature made the unfortunate decision to vote for an extension of cap and trade that will increase the cost of fuel by as much as 71 cents a gallon by 2031. The primary justification was that the market-based cap-and-trade solution was preferable to any option controlled solely by the powerful and hostile California Air Resources Board. While that argument can’t be discounted, it is nonetheless useful to speculate what would have happened if no Republicans supported the deal.

Historically, Republicans have been the primary defenders of California’s middle-class taxpayers. They almost always vote against any proposal to weaken Proposition 13 and for that they deserve our thanks. But there is no debate that the cap-and-trade legislation will increase gas prices. The only debate is over how much.

Republicans in the Legislature should also be thanked for providing the lion’s share of votes against the cap-and-trade bill. But now they are in a situation where they have to explain why eight of them voted for the bill which has created a significant messaging problem. Voters don’t understand cap and trade and they don’t understand what “saving them” from a $2 fuel price increase looks like because they’ve never experienced it. Compounding the messaging problem is the inevitable political fallout. Republican support gave Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown acres of political cover. Democratic legislators in at least two marginal seats were protected against having to cast a vote for higher energy costs and Gov. Brown secured a relatively stable source of funding for high-speed rail.

So what would have happened if no Republican legislators voted for cap and trade? Conceivably, Gov. Brown could have demanded Democratic allegiance and, using both carrots and sticks, may have secured it. But that would put Democrats in marginal districts at tremendous risk. At a minimum, Republicans could have leveraged their opposition for policies that actually are friendly to citizen taxpayers including, but not limited to, a rebate or broad based sales tax reduction for consumers to offset the added cost of gas over the next decade.

Republican refusal to give in to the type of extortion reflected in the cap-and-trade bill may very well have forced the Democrats into approving a CARB-style bureaucracy with a simple majority vote — which, by the way, might still happen. The far-left of the Democratic Party may have cheered but, for Republicans, it would open up vast new demographics — working Hispanics, other ethnic groups and recent immigrants — for whom just a few more cents in a gallon of gas is a big deal.

Unfailing opposition to the deal by Republicans would have provided something else almost always absent from California politics — clarity and accountability. When gas prices go through the roof — which they surely will — there would be no doubt which party to blame.

But we’ll never know as it will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair the damage and restore the Republican brand. Thus the odds of Republicans gaining seats in any of the next four election cycles (thanks to redistricting in 2022) are now in doubt. And for what? So Republicans can now adopt the losing argument that they voted for increased fuel costs to save taxpayers from even higher prices? What ordinary voting taxpayer is going to buy that argument?

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register.

New tax on real estate docs adds hardships to most vulnerable

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451Last week, the California Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 2 which would impose a new $75 tax on real estate documents filed with each county’s clerk recorder. If the bill becomes law, the projected revenue — over $250 million annually — would be dedicated to low income housing programs.

Like a recurring nightmare, this proposal to tax real estate transactions seems to come up every legislative session. Up to now, this regressive tax has failed to gain traction because of bipartisan opposition. Taxpayer and business interests hope that, once again, the bill fails to complete its journey through the legislative process.

Currently, certain real estate documents must be filed with the county in which the property is located.Recording fees are relatively modest, costing between $14 and $18 varying slightly among counties. The fees help defer the costs of administering the clerk/recorder’s office and, as long as the fees are low, they encourage people to record essential documents.

SB2 would increase that fee to anywhere between $89 and $93 per document; amounting to a tax increase of up to 1,250 percent. Anyone recording a property-related document would be required to pay the fee although sales transactions would be exempt. There is also cap of $225 on each transaction.

A flat rate tax on real estate recordings is highly regressive. For example, because actual sales are exempt, a person purchasing a multi-million dollar home wouldn’t pay the higher tax. But a widow recording an affidavit of their spouse’s death would. So would a contractor filing a mechanics lien for unpaid work or a senior citizen on a fixed income recording estate planning documents, including transfer upon death deeds. Moreover, the bill would make refinancing a home and loan modifications more expensive as those transactions would trigger the tax.

The biggest irony of SB2 is that it ignores basic economics. Think about it. A tax imposed on real estate transactions — obviously imposed only on those who own property — to pay for programs to make housing more affordable. This is like treating someone with a low blood count with leaches.

No one disputes that California has a housing crisis. It ranks 49th out of 50 states in housing units per capita. But SB2 only creates a different hardship as it attempts to alleviate another.

In a 2015 report by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office titled, “California’s High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences,” the nonpartisan LAO said “the key remedy to California’s housing challenges is a substantial increase in private home building in the state’s coastal urban communities.” Furthermore, “considerable evidence suggests that construction of market-rate housing reduces housing costs for low-income households,” while government programs for affordable housing help only a fraction of low-income Californians. And expanding those programs would be “extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive.” In other words, a new tax or bond is not the way to solve this problem. Government programs cannot be the solution to fix problems created solely by government.

SB2 puts an excessive tax burden on families who have already achieved homeownership and is unnecessarily regressive. Lawmakers should reject SB2, as they have in the past, and work to remove regulations, lower building permit and impact fee costs and push for CEQA reform. Only then can we ensure that the American Dream of homeownership remains viable in California. Taxpayers should call their representative in the State Assembly and urge them to oppose SB2.

Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Kammi Foote is the clerk-recorder of Inyo County.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

How to increase transparency for local bond measures

Voting BoothsPicture yourself on Election Day at your local polling place and looking over a lengthy ballot. Or, try to recall when you were at home reviewing your mail-in ballot. In choosing your elected officials on the ballots, it is pretty straight-forward: You vote for the candidate that best matches your interests and values.

But what about tax levies and bond measures proposed by local governments and school districts? There are so many factors to consider. How will the new funds help your community or school? How long will it take for bonds to be paid off? Most importantly, what will be the actual financial impact on you and your family?

Current law requires that a “tax rate statement” be mailed out to all voters, which includes the best estimate of the highest tax rate for voters, as well as the best estimate of total debt service. While this information can be helpful, it is often insufficient in aiding voters to estimate how much their property taxes might increase.

This is why Assembly Bill 1194 (by this column’s co-author, Matt Dababneh, D-Woodland Hills) is necessary to alleviate this uncertainty and increase transparency for voters regarding the effects that local bond measures may have on property taxes. By providing information upfront, such as the best estimate of the average annual tax rate and the last year when the bond is expected to be paid, voters will have the ability to better understand the bond measures’ impact on their own personal finances.

AB1194 was approved by the state Assembly with strong, bipartisan support. It is supported by taxpayer advocacy organizations and by the very people in local government who are most affected if this bill should pass: the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors.

However, AB1194 faces more hurdles in the state Senate and has attracted some opposition. One organization fears the additional information provided to voters through the legislation “could have a chilling effect on the passage of local bond measures.”

This opposition should concern all taxpayers, as well as transparency advocates. How can providing more information about the average annual tax rates be misleading or even “chilling”? Are opponents afraid that more transparency might give voters pause and cause them to take a closer look at the consequences of the bond measure’s passage rather than blindly voting “yes” down the ballot?

Taxpayers should ask themselves if they could benefit from more clarity on these bond measures. If the answer is yes, then we need your support to ensure AB1194 wins approval in the state Senate and moves to the governor’s desk. You can help by contacting your state senator over the course of this summer to urge their support on AB1194 for better voter transparency.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Matt Dababneh is the California Assemblymember for the 45th Assembly District.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register.

What taxpayers should know about the California budget

BudgetCalifornia voters are pretty good at figuring out what is going in the state capital when it hits them directly. For example, recent polling shows that citizen awareness of the $5.2 billion annual gas and car tax is very high and, incidentally, very negative.

But the same can’t be said when it comes to the more complicated and arcane actions of our state politicians such as the annual California state budget process. While Californians are painfully aware that taxes are very high (they’ve been watching their friends and neighbors moving out of state at record pace) they typically have little comprehension of where their tax dollars go. That’s not surprising since California ranks dead last in budget transparency according to a recent study by U.S. News & World Report.

Nonetheless, here are the main takeaways that every California taxpayer should know.

First, the budget is huge – over $125 billion in general fund spending – by far the largest budget in California history. Since the recovery began after the great recession, taxpayers have infused California’s General Fund with $41 billion and special funds by $28 billion. That translates into a 63 percent increase since 2010. And property owners have done their part as well. With real estate values fully recovered (and then some) property tax revenues are up 72 percent. This is where our schools get the lion’s share of their money.

Second, the budget is only balanced if you ignore debt. The majority party is practically breaking their arms trying to pat themselves on the back for a “balanced budget.” This is like a family celebrating the fact that they paid all their bills this month but ignoring the fact that they have a mortgage that is way beyond their means over the long term. California’s pension debt is, by some measurements, close to a trillion dollars.

Third, the budget is, as usual, full of tricks and questionable accounting. One of the more dubious ploys involves borrowing from special funds. This year, there’s a proposal to borrow $6 billion (with a “b”) from the state’s Surplus Money Investment Fund to reduce the unfunded liability of the state’s pension fund, PERS. While there is agreement that appropriating more money to PERS now helps to reduce unfunded liability in the future, that payment should come from current revenue, not a special account designed to cover ongoing operating expenses.  Let’s call this for what it is: Paying your Visa bill with your MasterCard.

The budget is being praised for adding a couple billion more to the state’s rainy day fund (technically called the Budget Stabilization Account) bringing it to over $8.4 billion. But recall during the last recession, the budget shortfall was many times that amount. Thus, while it seems like a lot of money, the state’s reserve funds remain woefully inadequate. You can’t save a penny a day for a couple of years and think it will be enough to fix the roof when it collapses.

Other trickery includes several dozen so-called “trailer bills.” These are supposed to be budget related bills – many are not – that can pass with a simple majority vote and are not subject to citizen referendum. Because they can be jammed through on short notice without citizen recourse, they are a favorite tool of the majority party to effectuate big policy changes. Two examples of this are the gutting of the California Board of Equalization – one of the few state tax agencies in America actually accountable to voters – and a blatantly political power grab by changing the law as it relates to recall elections designed solely to throw a lifeline to a tax-and-spend democrat who cast the deciding vote on the gas and car tax hike.

Bottom line? The majority party has adopted laws and policies which will unquestionably push state spending permanently higher by expanding programs, increasing welfare costs and giving their political funders – labor unions – higher compensation via costly collective bargaining agreements. Our elected leadership is driving California right off the cliff.  Thelma & Louise would be proud.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register 

The California caste system

Caste system IndiaAfter the Legislature imposed billions of dollars in new car and gas taxes on Californians last month, a friend emailed me to register his disappointment and disgust: “It’s like we live in an apartheid society where the politically powerful live in luxury and laugh at the working people of our state.”

Sadly, his point is accurate. The separation between the ruling class and the rest of Californians is becoming more extreme by the day. So much so, in fact, that California is beginning to resemble a society based on a caste system, meaning a formal structure of social stratification (usually associated with India) deriving from the hereditary division of the population into the highest caste (Brahmins) and various castes below.

California’s high cast Brahmins reside primarily in coastal enclaves including the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Barbara, Malibu and the west side of Los Angeles but they are also numerous in the Silicon Valley and Hollywood. These elites tend to be high income or wealthy and can afford to separate themselves from the trials and tribulations suffered by average citizens. This immunity from “real world” problems allows them to obsess about issues like bathroom access, climate change or the president’s hair. They lack respect or compassion for less fortunate citizens and, if truth be known, they find those outside their caste to be annoying.

And a gas tax? This tax to them is nothing when they can avoid paying it by plugging in their $120,000, taxpayer subsidized Teslas. And if their cars do run on gas, they never even bother to check the price. These are folks who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Walmart.

Next in the caste hierarchy are the politicians and members of government employee unions. While the Brahmans may help to elect the politicians, as do the unions, this second tier caste is much less secure because they still have to scrounge for financial advantage. The unions — representing the highest compensated state and local workers in all 50 states — are constantly seeking more pay and benefits. And because the politicians are constantly trying to consolidate and expand their influence, they establish a symbiotic relationship with the unions to keep campaign contributions rolling in that guarantee reelection. (Some electeds, who have spent years living off the taxpayers’ dime, genuinely fear they may not be qualified for work in the private sector and so will do almost anything to keep a grip on power.)

These politicians will parrot the concerns of the Brahmins about matters like the environment, but they do not have a committed belief system. They trip all over themselves in their rush to make environmental law exceptions for projects like stadiums that are backed by wealthy interests or unions in a position to secure or advance the politicians’ careers.

The next rank on the scale of who’s who in California are the non-working poor. While the upper classes do not want to rub elbows with them, they are regarded as useful because their votes can be purchased through extensive entitlement programs that are paid for by the very lowest class.

On the very bottom rung of the stature ladder, the equivalent of the Indian’s “Untouchables,” are working Californians, and the lowest of these workers is anyone who labors at a job that requires perspiration — these are regarded as little more than beasts of burden.

When the elites bother to consider members of the working class, they regard them as a source of tax revenue and little more. Ideally, to their way of thinking, they exist to pay taxes and not make waves.

A massive new gas tax adding to the burden of working Californians? Why it is just the price of being able to share a beautiful state and great weather with their social betters.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register

Why the recall of Josh Newman is justified

Candidate for the US Senate Josh Newman speaks with supporters at his campaign rally Tuesday at Yardhouse in Brea.  - ADDITIONAL INFO/// - ROD VEAL/CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHER - 110916.Elex.Senate29 - 11/8/16 -  Candidate for the US Senate Josh Newman hangs out at his campaign rally Tuesday at Yardhouse in Brea.

State Sen. Josh Newman, who has been in office less than six months, is the target of a credible and well organized recall election. The recall effort was instigated by reform and taxpayer interests over the passage of Senate Bill 1 which imposes a permanent $5.2 billion annual tax on gasoline and vehicle registration. That tax increase, never approved by voters, has generated vocal public criticism.

But why Josh Newman? Shouldn’t all legislators who cast a yes vote for this regressive tax on California’s middle class be held accountable? That is arguably true and there may be more recall efforts launched in the near future.

Nonetheless, there are several legitimate reasons why Sen. Newman deserves to be at the top of the list.

Opponents of the recall have suggested that a recall is only justified in cases of gross malfeasance or corruption. While those are certainly good reasons to target a legislator in the middle of a term, they are not exclusive reasons. It wasn’t that long ago when Gov. Gray Davis’ attempt to increase the car tax — one of the very taxes at issue here — led to his successful recall. His opponent, Arnold Schwarzenegger, actually dropped a car from a crane in an illustration of how unpopular the car tax hike was. In short, some actions justify a severe political response.

Second, it is readily apparent that Josh Newman is a bad fit for the Senate district he represents. Yes, he was duly elected, but only by the slimmest of margins. This is a district that should have been relatively easy win for a fiscal conservative. However, as we know from the statewide vote, many voters expressed strong negative feelings for the Republican at the top of the ticket — Donald Trump — and even those Republicans and independents who weren’t thrilled with Hillary Clinton, many still couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Trump. But Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot in a recall election which vastly increases the chances for success.

Third, the 29th Senate District has a large contingent of middle-class voters. Much different from the West Side of Los Angeles or San Francisco, a lot voters in the 29th District have seen their housing costs and other cost of living items increase without a matching increase in their incomes. For them, a huge increase in the gas tax and vehicle registration tax hits the family budget hard. Coastal elites don’t care how much the cost of gas is — most don’t even bother looking at the price — but working Californians do. A recall election will make Newman explain to the voters of his district why he voted against their interests.

Fourth, in addition to sending a message to other tax-happy legislators about the consequences of big middle-class tax hikes, replacing a progressive with a fiscally responsible individual would deprive Democrats of the two-thirds supermajority they need to impose even more tax hikes without voter approval. The California Taxpayers Foundation has calculated that, in the first four months of the new legislative session, progressives have proposed $155 billion in new taxes. Depriving Democrats of the two-thirds supermajority they need to pass tax hikes is more than a legitimate policy objective — it is critical for saving the state from liberal lunacy.

Fifth, the anger among California voters has not subsided from the day Senate Bill 1 was jammed through the legislature. If anything, the more citizens learn about this attack on their pocketbooks, the more incensed they get. Grassroots taxpayer groups have legions of members who are angry drivers reaching for their pitchforks and torches. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association alone has several thousand active members in Senate District 29 and they haven’t been shy about wanting something done and done now.

It would have been preferable for the Legislature as body, and Sen. Newman in particular, to have not imposed a punishing tax hike on California drivers. But they did, so they have only themselves to blame for political retaliation.

Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This piece was originally published by the Orange County Register

The hidden costs of gas-tax legislation

gas prices 2For the last three weeks this column has focused on both the policies and politics of the $5.2 billion annual transportation tax increase. In the unlikely event that some have forgotten — or were on another planet — the taxes include a substantial hike in the car tax as well as a 12 cent increase in the gas tax.

However, as one might hear in a low-budget, late-night television ad, “But wait, there’s more!” Specifically, the gas-tax hike which politicians tell us is 12 cents per gallon — which is bad enough — in actuality could be as high as 19 cents gallon. How is that possible?

The explanation is a bit complicated but important to understand. It involves a convoluted process known as the “gas tax swap” passed by the Legislature and implemented by the California Board of Equalization in 2010.

The gas tax swap eliminated the state sales tax on gasoline and replaced it with what was supposed to be a revenue-neutral per-gallon excise tax. This made it more legally defensible for the state to repay Proposition 1B transportation bond debt when California was in the midst of recession. The BOE was tasked with adjusting the numbers every year in a “backward looking” process so that California would collect no more revenue from the excise tax than it would have collected from the sales tax had it not been eliminated.

But here’s the kicker: The tax hike just jammed through the Legislature in less than one week by Senate Bill 1 contains a provision that, beginning in July of 2019, adjusts the base excise tax to what it was in July 2010 when the gas tax swap started. Currently, the excise tax on gas is 27.8 cents a gallon. But in July of 2010 it was 35.3 cents a gallon. So as it stands right now, that’s a seven cents per gallon increase, on top of the new 12 cents per gallon tax.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Sacramento Failing to Account for Predictable Changes

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

What is it with progressive politicians who believe that taxpayers won’t change their behavior because of tax policy? One would think that repeatedly seeing pie-in-the-sky revenue projections from big tax hikes that fall way short of reality would be a wake-up call.

In trying to project the impact of tax hikes on government revenues, the failure to account for predictable changes in behavior is called “static scoring.” And since many progressives mindlessly hew to this method of analysis, let’s call it “static cling.”

Static scoring is different from “dynamic scoring.” Dynamic scoring simply means taking into account predictable changes in behavior that result from tax increases (or tax cuts) to accurately project the amount of money that will be raised.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Proposition 13 is the original victim of ‘fake news’

prop 13As Proposition 13 approaches its 39th birthday, it is still subject to the same dishonest attacks in the media that were used against it when it was on the ballot in 1978. Proposition 13 was one of the first victims of “fake news.”

“The bigwigs in labor and business went all out to defeat 13,” said its principle author, Howard Jarvis. “They tried to outdo one another in issuing doomsday prophecies about what passage of 13 would mean.” The media slavishly supported the exaggerated and dishonest claims, often endorsing them through editorials and by giving prominent placement to negative stories on the tax revolt.

The politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and government agencies from top to bottom weighed in. Here is a typical example: Before the election, Alameda County Transit told the public that passage of Prop. 13 would result in the termination of 80 percent of its 2,000 employees. Two months later, the Fremont-Newark Argus reported on the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 13, “To date, no one in the district has been laid off and officials now believe there will be no massive layoffs.” The paper added that three local fire districts that anticipated losing one-half to three-fourths of its staff, had not lost a single firefighter to Prop. 13.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Politicians Failing to Spend Our Money to Fix Roads

los-angeles-freewaysConsider this argument from Sacramento politicians: California’s roads, freeways and bridges are crumbling. Our spending on transportation is so seriously inadequate that a gas tax increase and other taxes are desperately needed to save California from ruin.

If this sounds like the shrill arguments we are currently hearing to support an increase in California’s gas tax by another 12 cents a gallon and a hike in the car tax by nearly $40, you’re only half right. Those with long memories will recall that these were the identical arguments made in 1990 by Gov. George Deukmejian and transportation interests urging the passage of Proposition 111, a 9 cents-a-gallon tax increase combined with a 55 percent increase in truck weight fees.

Demonstrating that not much has changed in a quarter-century, promoters of Prop. 111 trotted out long lists of projects that would be completed with the billions of dollars in new revenue. Advertising focused on the benefits of Proposition 111, without ever mentioning taxes.

To read the entire column, please click here.