​Be Careful What You Sign

VotedArmed with a clipboard and a smile, they stand on the sidewalk in front of popular stores and public buildings. “Want to support schools?” or “Do you want to end poverty?” they call out to passersby. Those who respond positively are asked to sign a petition to place a measure to accomplish the stated goal on the ballot.

These are signature gathers, usually paid by the interests advancing the initiative they tout. They are not obligated to fully explain who would actually benefit from the passage of measure which, more times than not, is the sponsor of the initiative. And they do not have to volunteer if the initiative would raise taxes. In fact, for tax increase measures, saying that the proposal would hike taxes is likely the last thing they would admit.

However, even if signature gatherers are, at times, misleading, this does not justify further weakening the People’s right to initiative, referendum and recall, as some suggest. As with all matters relating to government, it remains the voter’s responsibility be informed and to ask questions — and questions should be asked before signing a petition in support of a measure that could result in a major change in state law.

The tools of direct democracy are worth preserving. They vest the citizenry with the power to be the Legislature of last resort when sitting lawmakers prove to be indolent, incompetent or corrupt and unable to properly carry out the most important business of the public. One has only to look back to 1978. When the Legislature and then Governor Brown refused to act, voters placed on the ballot and approved Proposition 13, an answer to escalating property taxes that were literally forcing many from their homes.

Support for the legislative referendum in our country goes back to Thomas Jefferson, who advocated for its inclusion in the Virginia state constitution. Its implementation in California is credited to Governor Hiram Johnson.

Johnson was elected in 1910 on an anti-Southern Pacific Railroad platform at a time when most members of the Legislature where bought and paid for by the railroad. (An ironic historical footnote: Shortly after taking office Johnson paroled notorious Southern Pacific train robber, Chris Evans.)

In a 1911 special election, California voters approved the initiative process which allowed regular folks to be involved in making laws and broke the stranglehold of the railroad had on the Legislature. The politicians, none of whom like to share power, have been disgruntled ever since. Of course, the fact that politicians don’t like the people’s initiative, referendum and recall rights, that are embedded in the state constitution, may be one of the best arguments that these rights must be retained.

However, the key to a vibrant and effective initiative process is an informed public. So if asked to sign a petition, be wary. Read the initiative summary that is required to be printed at the top of the petition form. There are initiatives in circulation right now that would increase income taxes and undermine Proposition 13 protections for taxpayers. If there is a tax increase included, you may still decide to sign, but at least you will know the impact of your decision in a state where we already have the highest income rate, the highest state sales tax and were we rank in the top four in total tax burden. In other words, caveat emptor.

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.

The Enduring Legacy of Howard Jarvis

Howard-JarvisAfter the passage of Proposition 13, Howard Jarvis became even more popular with average citizens. He would joke that overnight he went from being regarded as a “nut” by the political elites to being seen as a “savior” for millions of California homeowners.

Visitors to Howard’s office would praise him for coming up with Proposition 13 just when it was so desperately needed. But Howard would just smile and point out that he had been working on property tax reform for 16 years.

Howard was tenacious and a big believer in the power of people when they combined together to make change. When speaking to groups he would hold up his hand with his fingers extended and say that while separately they were weak, united they were strong and he would form his hand into a fist. Some will remember seeing the photo of Howard holding up his fist on the cover of Time Magazine.

However, Howard understood that it was necessary to start small. His first taxpayer group meeting was attended by only 20 ordinary citizens — no celebrities, no politicians — just regular folks concerned that if the trend of ever escalating property taxes continued, they would lose their homes.

Howard would say that people who want to reform government don’t have to wait for somebody else to lead them. “You don’t need a campaign manager to lead you; you can be your own campaign manager and lead yourself,” he wrote. “The brains and capacities of the citizens of the United States are invariably greater than the brains and the capacities of bureaucracy – now misnamed government.”

For taxpayers, the key to success, Howard believed, could be summed up in the words of James E. Byrnes, secretary of state in the Truman administration, who said, “I discovered at an early age that most of the difference between average people and great people can be explained in three words: ‘And then some.’” Howard attributed the eventual success of the Tax Revolt to the fact that his fellow taxpayer activists did what was expected, “And then some.”

Although Howard passed in 1986, his spirit lives on in thousands of Californians who give of their time and energy to push for more economical and efficient government. To remind the public of these unsung heroes, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association annually presents the Taxfighter of the Year Award.

This year’s recipient is Ourania Riddle, a 30 year member of the Solano County Taxpayers Association, who witnessed the unelected State Water Resources Control Board running roughshod over the rights of taxpayers in her hometown of Dixon, and decided to take action. Her lobbying helped to assure passage of a state law that would allow Dixon to comply with water regulations and avoid penalties of $10,000 a day.

When the city determined a major water rate increase was in order, Ourania and her friends succeeded in gathering enough signatures to place a measure on the ballot to rescind the increase. Although a court subsequently ruled that the taxpayers’ effort to use the power of initiative was invalid, Ourania and her cohorts succeeded in changing state law and putting Dixon officials on notice that its taxpayers are organized and are carefully watching costs.

We at HJTA thank Ourania and all those unsung taxpayer heroes throughout the state who improve our lives by volunteering to act as watchdogs over government spending and who prod government to make more efficient use of taxpayers’ dollars. The spirit of Howard Jarvis lives on in the actions of these outstanding California taxpayers who are willing to do what is expected, “and then some.”

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.

Originally published by HJTA.org

Voters Finally Starting to Grasp the Debt Crisis

gun spending debt ceilingThe former head of the United States Government Accountability Office has estimated that the national debt is a staggering three times as much as usually publicized. Rather than $18 trillion, the actual number is around $66 trillion.

News reports about government debt at all levels are now more frequent and increasingly alarming. There is little doubt that this is due to the fact that the debt crisis is actually getting worse.

​But it might also be a reflection of a greater awareness on the part of citizens and the news media that debt is a real danger. For those of us who have been warning about government debt for decades, this greater awareness is long overdue.

Understanding all the ramifications of public debt isn’t easy. As to the magnitude of debt, former California legislator and now congressman Tom McClintock used to refer to “MEGO” numbers (My Eyes Glaze Over) meaning that citizens really can’t be expected to comprehend the vastness of numbers – like $66 trillion – with so many zeros behind them.

And it isn’t just the amount of debt that is confusing. In addition to voter approved bonds, normally referred to as “general obligation” bonds, there are a myriad of debt instruments pushed by powerful special interests including revenue bonds, “certificates of participation” and a host of other esoteric instruments created for the purpose of avoiding voter approval.

Other government debt isn’t even reflected by bonds or other instruments. The hundreds of billions of dollars of unfunded pension obligations in California are most certainly debt that ultimately will have to be repaid by taxpayers. And as columnist Dan Walters with the Sacramento Bee just noted, California had to borrow $10 billion from the federal government for the state’s Unemployment Insurance Fund which remains insolvent even though we are told by the political elites that California is in the midst of a vibrant economic recovery.

So why is it, given the complexity of issues related to government debt, that the public is starting to pay attention? First, high profile municipal bankruptcies in Vallejo, Stockton and other cities have wreaked havoc on both taxpayers’ wallets and on public services. There is widespread belief that even Los Angeles itself will be unable to avoid bankruptcy. Second, both the media and taxpayer advocacy groups like Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have successfully used the Public Record Act to secure far more detailed information than has been available in the past about employee pay and benefits, including lavish pension benefits. The disclosure of this information has spurred voters to start wondering why our services are second rate while public employee compensation is so high. Third, both private organizations and public entities have vastly improved data bases easily accessible on the internet making these complex issues a little easier to understand. For example, Controller John Chiang has just created a new website called Debt Watch to provide voters with more information about the various bond issuances.

But perhaps the biggest factor in the renewed attention of citizens on debt is personal experience. The 2008 recession left millions with underwater mortgages. Nothing focuses attention like a crisis that hits someone right between the eyes. Government debt in the trillions of dollars is difficult to understand. Not being able to pay one’s mortgage is a lot easier to grasp.

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.

Still Thankful for Liberty in 2015

Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

With the recent terror attacks against France, America’s oldest ally, most Americans are rightfully concerned for the welfare of our friends abroad as well as our own safety.

With the French, we share a common heritage of a dedication to liberty. The Statue of Liberty that stands proudly in the harbor of New York is a gift from the people of France.

Acknowledging the contributions of French officer the Marquis de Lafayette to the success of our revolution, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stanton a commander of the American Expeditionary Force in WW I, told Parisians on arrival, “Lafayette, we are here!”

While Americans and the French are victims of terrorism because of our beliefs and way of life, both nations continue to value and be grateful for our republican form of government that allows citizens to elect their representatives. And we share a common conviction that we will prevail over adversity.

In California, there is a tendency for taxpayers to see the elected Sacramento political class as working against the interests of average citizens. Nonetheless, we are grateful for elections that allow us to rehire or fire our elected representatives. As Proposition 13 author Howard Jarvis said, “The people we elect are not the bosses, we are.” Howard did not believe that complaining would solve problems, we, the people, had to take responsibility. If we don’t like the service we are receiving from the politicians, he reminded us, it is up to us to fire them and hire a better class of representatives.

Taxpayers are also grateful that over the last year, despite an anti-taxpayer majority in the Legislature, a strong coalition of grassroots citizens led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association succeeded in defeating all the attacks on Proposition 13. Taxpayers are grateful to every one of these citizen activists as well as those lawmakers who stood firm in defense of the interests of taxpayers.

Although proposals to repeal or weaken Proposition 13 will return in January, the coalition to protect Proposition 13 remains intact, and for this, too, we are thankful.

Howard Jarvis liked to quote the last line of our national anthem, “The land of the free and the home of the brave.” “This means” he would say, “that people cannot be free if they are not brave.” This remains true in the face of international terror as well as when struggling over fundamental principles of government at home.

Finally, it has been said that America has the worst government in the world – except for all the others. And while complaining about government is an American birthright, we must remember that billions of souls around the world risk imprisonment or death for speaking out against their despotic governments or leaders. So, in keeping with the season, let us be thankful that we live in a country that, despite her faults, remains the last, best hope for mankind.

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.

Tax Raisers Want To Keep Elections Secret

tax signDid you know that there was an election last Tuesday? Not many voters did, and the tax-and-spend crowd likes it that way. In this little publicized election, 29 out of 40 local tax increase measures passed.

Michael Coleman, Founder of the California Local Government Finance Almanac, notes the significance: “There were more local revenue measures on ballots this November than any of the four prior gubernatorial or presidential elections,” he said. “More were passed than ever before.”

Some might interpret these election results as a new acceptance of taxes by California voters. But for those of us who have observed government behavior for more than a few decades, we see a more sinister explanation. Specifically, that the tax raisers have become expert at gaming the system to pass tax and bond measures.

It is no coincidence that these tax increases were placed on an obscure odd year ballot, avoiding even year elections when gubernatorial and presidential races bring out more voters. But there is more.

Highly paid political consultants tell local officials not to publicize tax elections to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running a stealth election, communicating (in the case of school bonds) with only administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school. In tax elections, tax raisers use public employee union members to carry the torch.

A few years ago, at a seminar conducted for officials interested in passing tax measures, one consultant told those assembled to avoid town hall meeting style events. These, he said, bring out the “nuts.”

Since it is illegal for officials to use public resources (including public funds) to urge a vote for or against a political issue, consultants frequently counsel tax backers on the best way to wage “informational” campaigns. This includes sending out material stating all the good things a bond or tax measure will do, but stopping just short of violating the law by telling people how to vote.

Consultants tell their clients to always talk about the benefits a measure will bring — if somebody starts to talk about taxes, “move away from that and talk about what the benefit is.” If compelled to take about taxes, officials are counseled to put the cost in simple, friendly sounding terms that usually begin with “it’s only.” “It’s only a few cents a day,” or “it’s only a few dollars per month.” (A Los Angeles Community College District Chancellor once compared the cost of a bond to the cost of a “latte a month.”) Officials try to make it sound like the coming tax increase is trivial and that anyone who is opposed must be a cheapskate.

Even before a tax proposal is placed on the ballot, in most cases, officials have gained an advantage. They authorize surveys of voter sentiment to help them determine what sort of measure will most likely pass. Using taxpayer funds on these polls is justified by saying the information allows them to “better serve” the community.

Another advantage that gives tax raisers a leg up over taxpayers is that under law the agency sponsoring the new tax or bond gets to write the ballot question. That’s why the word “tax” is never seen.

However, when it comes to providing full disclosure to taxpayers on the impact of a local tax or bond measure there is good news that will impact future elections.

Gov. Brown has signed Assembly Bill 809 by Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear. Sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, this bill requires that rate and duration of a local tax measure, as well as the amount of estimated revenue to be raised, be placed on the ballot label for voters to review. The ballot label, a short description of the measure, is typically the last thing voters see before voting.

Now, when cities, counties and school districts place taxes on the ballot, critical information will be made clear and it will be more difficult for local officials to place their “thumbs on the scale” to unfairly alter the outcome. But, while the passage of AB809 is a step in the right direction, the tax raisers still possess the motivation (i.e., self-interest) and the resources, to skew most local elections. So, if you are a taxpayer concerned about all the taxes, fee and charges you have to pay, you need to pay attention to every election, even the obscure ones.

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.

Small Measures Can Provide Large Benefits to Taxpayers

TaxesThose who follow the political machinations in Sacramento might well conclude that not much good emerges from the California Legislature. Gas taxes, attacks on home ownership, a tax increase on commercial property, ever-expanding pension deficits, high speed rail, there seems an endless list of proposals for which the average taxpayer is supposed to foot the bill, while others receive the benefit.

With all this bad news, it is easy to overlook some relatively obscure bills that could have an oversized beneficial impact on taxpayers.
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Assembly Bill 809 by Assembly Member Jay Obernolte (Hesperia) is a proposal that will aid local voters deciding on tax measures by providing some much needed transparency. Under current law, there is no word limit requirement on the ballot label – the descriptive information that appears on the ballot — for local tax measures. The ballot label is the last thing most citizens see before casting their vote. The label is often filled with whole paragraphs explaining how the funds will be spent, but little or no information that helps voters determine what it will cost them.

AB809 states that the ballot label will include the tax rate increase, its duration, and a revenue estimate of what it will generate annually. If voters approve a county-wide sales tax increase for 30-40 years, they should at least be fully aware of the cost in the years to come. By placing this information in the ballot label, voters can make informed decisions that will best benefit their communities.

Assembly Bill 1378 by Assembly Member Chris Holden (Pasadena) expands the provisions of Proposition 60, which was based on an idea by Howard Jarvis and approved by voters in 1986, that provides property tax relief for seniors. Proposition 60 allows for an individual over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their property to a new residence in the same county as long as it doesn’t exceed the value of their current home based on its sales price. While this provides a tax benefit to seniors, any cost to government is made up when the first home sells and goes on the assessor’s books at market value for tax purposes. Without being able to retain their Proposition 13 tax base, many seniors would be locked into their current residence, unable to move, and their homes would remain off the market.

Under current law, a married couple can only take advantage of this tax exemption once. AB1378 would allow each individual in a married relationship to take advantage of the exemption, allowing them to move a second time and transfer their lower tax base. The result is increased residential flexibility that benefits our seniors.

With life expectancy increasing, we cannot assume that individuals will remain in the same house in retirement for 30 years. Individuals may decide to move again to be closer to their children or because of health difficulties that makes their current home impractical. They should not be punished with higher property taxes in retirement for circumstances that may be beyond their control. AB1378 is a common-sense proposal that adapts California law to the changing lifestyle requirements of our aging population.

Just like the small, often overlooked, belt buckle can have tremendous impact on the success of a pair of pants, these unheralded bills, AB809 and AB1378, have the potential to contribute significantly to the well-being of all taxpayers. AB809 and AB1378 deserve to be adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.

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.

Tiered Water Ruling — Water Agencies Shouldn’t Make a Profit Off Homeowners

Last week the California Court of Appeal issued an important ruling interpreting Proposition 218, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sponsored initiative approved by voters in 1996. Proposition 218 is entitled “The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act” for a very good reason. It reflects the policy that those who pay the bills for public expenditures – taxpayers – should have the final say over how much is taken out of their wallets and pocketbooks. It subjects virtually all local taxes and fees, especially those related to property, to voter or ratepayer control.

Proposition 218 was necessary because the Legislature and the courts had created loopholes in Proposition 13, the iconic California initiative that started the modern American tax revolt in 1978. While Proposition 13 was focused on property taxes, Proposition 218 was drafted to limit the explosion in other types of government exactions burdening homeowners including so-called “benefit assessments,” fees, charges and other sorts of property related levies.

What is important to note about Proposition 218, is that it did not ban property related fees but, rather, sought to return the imposition of fees like water, sewer and trash collection rates to the traditional concept of “cost of service.” Cost of service simply means what it says: The cost to a property owner for a service should not exceed government’s cost to provide that service.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal concluded that “tiered” water rates, without being justified under “cost of service” principals, failed to comply with the constitutional mandates of Proposition 218. The lawsuit was brought by the Capistrano Taxpayers Association against the city of San Juan Capistrano for, among other transgressions, imposing water rates that were “tiered,” meaning those who used more water would be charged a higher amount per gallon.

The court ruling was immediately condemned by water agencies, state bureaucrats and even Governor Jerry Brown who decried the decision as putting a “straightjacket” on his policies to enforce water conservation. But the ruling did nothing of the sort. First, rather than saying all tiered water rates were automatically unconstitutional, the court merely stated that, whatever the methodology used to impose water rates, they must be based on cost of service.

The sin of San Juan Capistrano was its failure to justify its rate structure at all.

Second, local governments have an array of tools available to enforce conservation to deal with California’s current water shortage. Limiting landscape watering to once or twice a week; prohibitions against hosing down driveways or automobiles; rebates to homeowners and businesses to convert landscape to drought tolerate plants; water reclamation; desalination, such as the massive new project in San Diego County; and the list goes on and on.

So if water agencies have sufficient – and legal – tools available to them to incentivize conservation and deter waste, what is the basis for the shrill, over-the-top reaction to the Court of Appeal decision?  Simple. If these agencies are permitted to impose water rates divorced from “cost of service” principles, then they can generate taxpayer funds over their costs and make a “profit” from homeowners – something Proposition 218 was specifically drafted to prevent.

And in the case of Jerry Brown, he didn’t like the ruling because he is desperately searching for a revenue source for his ill-conceived “Twin Tunnels” project which, like his High Speed Rail debacle, simply isn’t ready for prime time.

There is an object lesson here. Droughts may be caused by Mother Nature, but water shortages are created by humans. California is now paying the price for not building new storage and conveyance infrastructure over the last several decades. Rather than complaining about “cost of service” requirements that are founded in common sense and rational policy, California should immediately correct the dereliction of prior political leaders and build what we need for a California in the 21st century.

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.

A Short History of Proposition 13

(Note from the author): Proposition 13, the 1978 property tax measure, continues to be in the news in California with talk of reforms in some quarters. Just this week, the Public Policy Institute of California polled some issues related to Prop 13. The poll found that 66% of likely voters found Prop 13 to be a good thing for California. That included 78% of Republicans, 62% of Independents, and 58% of Democrats. With 13 still making news in California, it is probably an opportune time to publish the text of a speech I gave a few months ago on the history of Proposition 13.)

Let me take you back to 1966 to Newhall, California right here in Los Angeles County, to an item that appeared in the local Newhall Signal newspaper. It came with a picture of an elderly couple standing before their house. It would not be unkind to call it a shack. The house was assessed for taxes at the property’s highest and best use, a standard used by assessors at the time. Since an apartment building had been built close by, this elderly couple’s home was assessed as if an apartment building was built there. The couple’s tax bill, in 1966 dollars, was $1800 a year. Their total income was $1900 a year.

Four years earlier, a retired, civic minded, combative businessman, Howard Jarvis began an effort to reform the property tax system. He said he worked with “ordinary people” to do something about taxes. He called it “grand felony theft” when people, like the Newhall couple, lost their homes to the taxman.

And he wasn’t alone in protesting outrageous taxes. Remember this was about the time George Harrison wrote, and the Beatles’ sang, Should five percent appear too small, Be thankful I don’t take it all, Cause I’m the Taxman.

Howard Jarvis worked 15 years on property tax reform. He submitted or worked on a number of initiative proposals that either didn’t qualify for the ballot or were defeated at the polls.

Meanwhile, the situation got worse. What happened was property values were increasing dramatically in the 1970s—kind of like now. Property taxes are a function of the tax rate and the value of the property. If the tax rates were not adjusted but the property value increased, taxes zoomed up.

In some instances people bribed assessors to keep their property values low and reduce their taxes. Some assessors were caught and they went to prison – one committed suicide. Officials decided something had to be done. They computerized assessments so when a property sold all the property around it would automatically have their assessments increased and their taxes increased with the increased valuation.

In San Francisco, bumper stickers soon appeared that read: “Bring back the crooked assessor!”

Speaking of San Francisco, one San Francisco government official told the San Francisco Chronicle that before Prop 13 ‘the mayor had a relatively easy job, you just add up all your revenues and all your expenses and then you just SOCKED it to the taxpayer.’

That was the environment when Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann combined to get a record number of signatures for Prop 13, in every county, practically all through volunteer signature gatherers.

Many members from both political parties and most of the state’s special interests from business to labor opposed Prop 13. Yet the fund raising was fairly even. The No side had more, and they got it in large donations, but the many small donations from homeowners offset the large donations enough to keep the Yes on 13 side in the game.

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, made a television ad for Prop 13. Ronald Reagan did a radio ad. Reagan’s radio ad said Prop 13 would protect the American Dream. Marty Anderson, Reagan’s chief economist for the 1980 presidential campaign, told me once 13 passed it gave the Reagan campaign impetus to make taxes a lead issue in the presidential campaign.

While the other side may have had more money, the campaign was high profile and the media helped. KABC-TV in Los Angeles held a debate on the news for 5 to 10 minutes every night for weeks. Howard Jarvis taking on all comers.

It wasn’t a fair fight – for the other guys. Jarvis said, “When you see politicians and bankers and union leaders standing together against something you’re for, you know there is no way in the world you can be wrong.”

Prop 13 passed two to one on Election Day, June 6, 1978. It capped the property tax rate, allowed a limited increase for inflation, reassessments on sale of property, and required a supermajority vote in the legislature for state taxes and a vote of the people on local tax increases.

It was challenged in the courts, of course. The California Supreme Court said it was constitutional…that the acquisition value system—taxes are set when you acquired the property—was reasonable and fairer than the system in place before 13.

But that wasn’t the only court challenge. In the early 1990s, a Prop 13 case made it to the United States Supreme Court.

This delighted the folks who had longed hope to see the end of Prop 13. The Long Beach Press editorial the morning of the hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court cried, “Off with its Head!”

Didn’t work out that way. As with the California Supreme Court, there was only one dissenting vote against Prop 13.

Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, found Prop 13 was constitutional, that the state had a legitimate interest in neighborhood preservation and stability and could set tax laws to discourage rapid turnover of property in homes and businesses to discourage displacement of mom and pop stores by newer chain operations.

Blackmun also wrote that someone acquiring property doesn’t require the same protection as someone who owns property and could be subjected to jarring tax increases.

The case against Prop 13 was based on the issue that side-by-side similar properties pay different taxes. Renowned economist Adam Smith in his work, Wealth of Nations, said certainty in taxation was much more important than equality. However, I prefer how a writer in a Northern California newspaper put it. Proposition 13 reminded her of her grandmother’s quilt. It is made up of different patches but sewn together it keeps everyone warm.

Even with Prop 13 upheld by the courts it comes under constant attack as you know.

From the ridiculous – a track coach said his shot puts were lost in tall grass because the grass was not cut as frequently because of Prop 13, to the more serious, when the Bakersfield Californian newspaper asked: Is Proposition 13 killing children because we don’t have enough measles serum in this county? To the editorial cartoon in the Los Angeles Times after the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area that showed a car crushed by a freeway and the license plate read, Prop 13. And my favorite in the New Republic, which said the reason O.J. Simpson was found not guilty in his criminal trial was because of Proposition 13. The reasoning was that because of the tax cuts Los Angeles city and county did not have the funds to hire competent police and corner officials. No matter that at that time, LAPD officers were paid more than police in New York and Chicago.

Which is why Howard Jarvis created a taxpayer organization, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, to carry on the fight and the defense of Prop 13. As Howard used to say, “A ship can’t sail on yesterday’s wind.”

Prop 13 was revolutionary because for the first time it gave certainty to the taxpayer instead of the tax collector.

Finally let me close with the following assessment of Prop 13 when it hit it’s 20th anniversary: “Proposition 13 is 20 years old and it’s time to proclaim the tax cutting measure a stunning success. The brainchild of Howard Jarvis and others has been vilified by critics for two decades and blamed for much of what ails California. But, at the heart of it, the measure did exactly what Jarvis promised …Proposition 13 provided a substantial and permanent reduction in soaring property tax levels and brought stability to a tax system that had been rife with corruption and subject to the volatile whims of the housing market.”

So said the Editorial in —ready for it –the Los Angeles Times!

Originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily

VIDEO: Jon Coupal on the California State Budget

California state spending has increased 30 percent in the last five years, even with the recession. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is concerned about the level of spending and the level of debt.

For What Are Taxpayers Thankful in 2014?

“In this season of Thanksgiving, please don’t blame taxpayers if they are distracted by the injuries being perpetrated against them by our political class.”  These words were the preface of this column at the beginning of the holiday season in 2008 and, sadly, little has changed.  In fact, in many ways taxpayers are worse off now than they were then.

Six years ago, California’s tax burden was ranked 6th nationally.  Today we trail only New York as the worst state for taxpayers.   We now rank first in state sales tax, first in marginal income tax rates, first in gasoline tax and, even with Proposition 13, we rank in the top third in per capita property taxes.  Because Proposition 13 makes it harder for California to overtake New York as our nation’s number one taxpayer hell, one can expect new efforts by Sacramento politicians to undermine its protections in the new legislative session.

Some of our state leaders like to chirp happily about California’s declining unemployment rate, but only three states are worse off and our 7.3 percent rate is much higher than the national rate of 5.8 percent.  Still, all these figures are suspect because they do not count the discouraged who have stopped looking for work entirely.  And even those counted include many part-time workers for whom the best holiday gift would be finding fulltime employment.

Then there is the constantly growing, and largely ignored unfunded pension liability now estimated at several hundred billion. It stood at $6.3 billion just a decade ago.  As more government workers retire, this debt will come due and will have to be addressed by either reduced public services or tax increases or both.  The pressure for new revenue to support the retired workforce will provide an additional incentive to politicians to demolish Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections.

Nonetheless, while elected officials may be planning to put coal in taxpayers’ stockings as we approach Christmas, there are a few things for which we can all be grateful.

First is Proposition 13, which limits annual increases in property taxes and forces the tax raisers in the Legislature to get a two-thirds vote of their colleagues to raise state taxes.   We at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association hear daily from those who are thankful for Proposition 13 and credit its most famous feature — limiting annual property tax increases to no more than 2 percent — for allowing them to keep their homes.

While during the session just passed, those favoring new taxes dominated the Legislature, the November election has turned out some fiscally irresponsible lawmakers and replaced them with some who understand the detrimental impact of new taxes on individual taxpayers and the overall economy, and who are likely to reject new taxes.  So taxpayers are grateful not only for Proposition 13 but for lawmakers who will defend their interests against great pressure for new taxes from special interests including public employee unions.

Taxpayers are also thankful for all individuals, regardless of party affiliation, who make the personal sacrifice to run for office and present their ideas to voters.  A functioning free republic relies on individuals who are willing to step into the arena, even in those instances where their chances of prevailing are small.

Finally, complaints against government at all levels are an American birthright.  But we are mindful that billions of souls around the world risk imprisonment or death for speaking out against their despotic governments or leaders.  So, in keeping with the season, let us be thankful that we live in a country that, despite her faults, remains the last, best hope for mankind.