Defending Direct Democracy and Defending Taxpayers

vote ballotsThe powers of direct democracy — initiative, referendum and recall — are powerful tools to control slow-moving or corrupt politicians. These powers are enshrined in the California Constitution for reasons that are just as compelling in 2019 as they were in 1911 when Gov. Hiram Johnson, seeking to suppress the absolute control the railroads had over the state Capitol, pushed to give ordinary citizens a “legislative battering ram” — using the language of the Supreme Court — to address issues that for whatever reason the Legislature refuses to address.

Political elites hate the initiative process. From their perspective it allows the great unwashed and unsophisticated to deal with matters such as taxation, victims’ rights, insurance and most importantly political reform. These are issues over which politicians strongly desire to exercise a legislative monopoly.

Like any political process, however, direct democracy can be abused. Some matters are indeed complicated and not well suited to a sound-bite campaign. Also, special interests with a lot of money can overwhelm the airwaves with TV and radio ads to convince a majority of voters (especially in a low-turnout election) to pass something they might later regret. Nonetheless, for taxpayers, direct democracy remains one of the few tools we have to protect ourselves.

Landmark initiative measures such as Propositions 13 and 218 have given taxpayers the kind of protection against greedy government entities that we would never have obtained but for rights granted through direct democracy. But taxpayers must do more than propose initiatives and convince voters to enact them. We must also defend them in court against never-ending assaults. For years, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has maintained a potent litigation capacity with three full-time lawyers and access to dozens more willing to defend not just taxpayer-sponsored initiatives but the very power of direct democracy itself.

And so it is that HJTA finds itself back before the California Supreme Court on an important direct democracy case.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Progressives Now Complaining About Gas Prices

Gas TaxOnly in California. Progressive policies in California have forced drivers to pay some of the highest gas prices in the nation. Now, a group of liberal legislators want the California attorney general to investigate why this is true.

Let’s recap what the progressives have inflicted on working Californians who are simply trying to get to work and get their kids to school and soccer practice. According to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy, gas prices dropped slightly in December but declined faster in other states. In the United States other than California, the average gas price was $2.26 per gallon. In California, it was $3.40, a premium above the national average of $1.144, a 50.6 percent difference.

California had the second-highest gasoline price among the states behind only Hawaii. Californians paid $1.48 per gallon more than consumers in Missouri, the state with the lowest price. That’s 77 percent more for the same tank of gasoline.

The Center also noted that “California’s fuel regulations and the isolated market created by those regulations continue to push the state’s cost premium up higher — a cost-of-living factor that in particular falls on lower-wage workers as they are forced to commute longer distances in order to find housing they can afford.” Those regulations include California’s unique cap-and-trade law and low-carbon fuel standards, rendering the production of gasoline an expensive and risky enterprise.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Stop Letting Sacramento Fool Us

Capitol“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” so the saying goes. Unfortunately, California voters have been fooled (aka lied to) so many times by our political leaders that perhaps they have come to expect it. For a politician to actually keep his or her word is now the exception, not the rule.

And it’s not just voters who get fooled. Interest groups and other officials are often snookered by those with more political power.  Several recent displays of this political behavior show beyond any doubt that promises made in Sacramento have an extraordinarily short shelf life.

The first example deals with California’s one-of-a-kind “cap and trade” law, a market-based regulatory system for incentivizing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Under this program, impacted industries must pay for emitting greenhouse gases by purchasing credits at auction. The program was set to expire in 2020, but in 2017 there was a big political push to extend “cap and trade” in a way that would impose another huge cost to refineries and utilities, which would then pass those costs to California drivers, truckers and electricity customers.

Surprisingly, many industries forced into the “cap-and-trade” auctions supported the extension. They did so because they were threatened by Gov. Jerry Brown, environmental extremists and powerful regulators that if they didn’t, they’d be hit with an alternative program run completely by the government bureaucrats at the California Air Resources Board. Taxpayer groups, small-business interests and most Republicans opposed the extension because it would further raise California’s already sky-high cost of living. In addition to the cost, there was nothing in the political deal that guaranteed CARB wouldn’t move forward with punishing regulations anyway. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register

Gavin Newsom’s Budget Calls for More Spending, Higher Taxes

Gavin Newsom budgetTo the surprise of absolutely no one, California’s new governor has proposed a state budget with billions in increased spending and lots of tax hikes. And, as an added bonus, he is proposing new mandates on businesses and local governments as well as depriving Californians of the right to vote on certain kinds of local debt. From the perspective of taxpayers, this is not a propitious start.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget envisions spending $144 billion of general fund dollars, a 4 percent increase over former Gov. Jerry Brown’s last budget, which clocked in at $138 billion. To put this in perspective, general fund spending was less than $100 billion just six years ago. In California, state government is the No. 1 growth industry.

No California spending plan would be complete without new “revenue enhancements.” And the biggest item on this list is the imposition of the “individual mandate” for health insurance. Recall that President Obama’s so-called Affordable Care Act (which was anything but affordable) imposed a burdensome tax on millions of Americans. (Indeed, it was only the fact that the ACA imposed a “tax” that saved it from a constitutional challenge).

The good news is that Congress repealed the tax at the federal level. The bad news is that Gov. Newsom wants to reimpose it at the state level in order to save Covered California from imploding. The cost to Californians for a state-imposed individual mandate with a penalty?: $700 per person, which is projected to raise $500 million in new revenue.

To read the entire column, please click here.

What the High-Speed Rail Audit Really Means

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne GustAlthough the midterm election was held on November 6th, the news media was absorbed for several weeks with undecided close races and the strength of the “blue wave,” especially here in California. Perhaps that is why a report from the Auditor of the State of California on the High Speed Rail Project issued the following week did not receive as much attention as it would otherwise warrant.

To understand just how damning the HSR audit was, just consider the subtitle:  “Flawed Decision Making and Poor Contract Management Have Contributed to Billions in Cost Overruns and Delays in the System’s Construction.”  But like many government documents, the audit is couched in bureaucratic language that ordinary citizens may not understand.  For that reason, below are the summary points as provided by the state auditor with accompanying translations.

Auditor: “Although the Authority has secured and identified funding of over $28 billion that it expects will be sufficient to complete initial segments, that funding will not be enough to connect those segments, or finish the rest of the system—estimated to cost over $77 billion.”

Translation: The Authority has succeeded in talking both the federal government and the state of California into providing billions of dollars on a failed project and yet still has no idea where the rest of the money will come from.

To read the entire column, please click here.

HJTA’s 2018 scorecard identifies taxpayer allies, foes

Report CardIn 2018, perhaps scared off by the specter of an upcoming election and the recall of state Sen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton, the California Legislature approved no new taxes for only the second time in the last six years. This was a radical departure from a year earlier, when three new taxes were approved.

However, that’s not to say that the Legislature didn’t try. New taxes on a host of items, including guns, fireworks, water and a sales tax on services were introduced without success. Next year, with tax-and-spend politicians holding a commanding two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, the pressure to cave on new taxes will be even greater.

Considering what the future may hold, it is easy for taxpayers to question whether legislators will ever be held accountable. However, a useful tool to assist taxpayers is the annual legislative Report Card published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Introduced back in 2007, the purpose of the report card is to document how lawmakers have voted on those issues most important to taxpayers.

Lawmakers tend to hide behind statements, sometimes of questionable truth, to justify their votes. The report card sets aside motives, back-room deal negotiations and party affiliations to focus on the one question that matters: did legislators stand up for the interests of taxpayers? While politicians may waver in their allegiance, the numbers don’t lie.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California Taxpayers Give Thanks But Worry About the Future

taxesIn this season of Thanksgiving, taxpayers in California have reason to pause when asked for what they are thankful. Considering the costly plans of the newly elected Legislature and governor, taxpayers may be most grateful for the fact that the state hasn’t yet built a wall encircling the state to keep them from leaving.

After 2017, when lawmakers enacted new taxes including a $5.2 billion annual tax hike on gasoline, diesel and vehicle registration, as well as a new tax on recorded documents, 2018 saw every effort by the Legislature to increase taxes defeated by advocates for taxpayers.

We are grateful that the first-ever tax on drinking water was defeated.

We are grateful that the tax on fireworks was defeated, and that the effort to revive the “snack tax” was not successful.

We are grateful that the proposal to put a sales tax on services was shelved.

We are grateful that nearly a million voters signed petitions to repeal the gas and car tax. Of course, the bad news is that the gas tax repeal was given a new title by Attorney General Xavier Becerra that removed the words “gas tax repeal” from the ballot, deceiving voters.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Did California save Ted Cruz?

ap_ted-cruz_ap-photo-3-640x426Chuck DeVore is just one of thousands of former Californians who have moved to Texas. But DeVore is unique. Not only did he serve in the California Assembly, but he remains heavily engaged in policy issues as Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free market think tank based in Austin.

DeVore is a frequent guest on national television shows to speak on economic issues, including how progressive policies suppress economic growth. Moreover, he has firsthand experience with the movement of people and money between the two economic titans, California and Texas.

The migration of businesses from California to Texas is well-documented. Big names, like Charles Schwab, Campbell’s Soup, Burger King, Waste Management and other billion-dollar businesses severed their California connections for Lone Star liberty. In fact, it was entertaining to watch the sparring between then-Texas Governor Rick Perry — who frequented California to poach businesses from California — and the Golden State’s own Jerry Brown who tried to portray Texas as hick-country governed by a buffoon.

More than just businesses, it is people who have left California in numbers significantly larger than those coming in from other states. From 2007 to 2016, California has experienced net domestic out-migration of a million citizens, and the number-one destination? You guessed it. Texas. Of course, that doesn’t mean that California has lost population, in fact it has gained. But those gains have come from immigration – both documented and otherwise — and new births.

To read the entire column, please click here.

How to Read Your Property Tax Bill

property taxThanks to Proposition 13, property tax bills are less scary in California than they are in a lot of other states. Homeowners in Illinois and New Jersey, just to cite two examples, have been known to let out a blood-curdling scream when they open the tax collector’s envelope that would be right at home on the soundtrack of a Jamie Lee Curtis movie.

Proposition 13 limits increases in a property’s assessed value to 2 percent per year and provides property owners with a pretty good idea of what their tax bill will be before they open the envelope.

Still, there can be some surprises. Taxpayers should understand the various charges and check the tax bill to make sure they’re not being assessed for more than they’re legally obligated to pay. It’s a good idea to compare each year’s tax bill to the previous year’s bill.

For most California counties, the property tax bill will show three categories of charges. They are the General Tax Levy, Voted Indebtedness and Direct Assessments.

The General Tax Levy is what most people think of when talking about property taxes. It is based on the assessed value of land, improvements and fixtures. This charge usually makes up the largest part of the tax bill and it is the amount that is limited by Proposition 13.

The annual increase in the General Levy of Assessment should be no more than 2 percent, unless there have been improvements to the property, like adding a room to the house. However, if a property received a “reduction in value” reassessment under Proposition 8, the taxable value may go up more than 2 percent to reflect the recovery in the market value. But in no case will the taxable value be more than the initial Prop. 13 base year plus 2 percent annually from the date of purchase.

If homes like yours are selling for less than the valuation on your current bill, contact your county assessor and ask for an adjustment to reflect the actual market value.

The second category of charges is Voted Indebtedness. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Daily News

Government Boondoggles Threaten CA Property Owners and Taxpayers

High Speed Rail FresnoOne would hope that with the profound foolishness associated with California’s infamous High Speed Rail (HSR) project that our elected leadership would have learned a thing or two.

But this is California. Because we do things bigger and better than anyone else, it’s apparent that one massive boondoggle isn’t enough — we need two.

Let’s recap what we’ll call Boondoggle, Senior.

The complete dysfunction of HSR is no longer in dispute. Missed deadlines for the business plans, lack of transparency, massive cost overruns, engineering hurdles that make the project virtually impossible to complete and a lack of funding are tops on the list. Not only is HSR no longer viable, but the biggest irony is the project was justified on grounds that it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even there it fails, as the independent Legislative Analyst has concluded that the project will be a net GHG producer for the foreseeable future.

HSR is now an international joke. Many who originally supported the High Speed Rail project have changed their opinions, including a former Chairman of the HSR Authority.

Boondoggle, Junior, is the planned construction of the Twin Tunnels project through the Sacramento River Delta, also known as WaterFix. While there is no doubt that California needs additional water infrastructure — and the dams and canals we have now are in need of serious maintenance – Governor Brown’s Twin Tunnel project suffers from the same major flaw as High Speed Rail — an abject lack of planning and no vision for how the project will be funded.

Like the High Speed Rail project, the financing for the Twin Tunnels is illusory. Many of the potential major wholesale customers of water from the Twin Tunnels are highly skeptical of its viability and balk at paying for it. The one exception is the Metropolitan Water District in the greater L.A. area, which has now said it will pay for the full project. Of course, that means its customers will pay.

Lack of transparency is another quality the Twin Tunnels project shares with HSR. Earlier this week, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee held a hearing that opened the way for an extension of the long-term contracts for the State Water Project for another 50 years. (The hearing was supposed to be conducted in the waning days of the Legislative session, but because the topic is so controversial, it was delayed until after everyone left town.) …

Click here to read the full article from the Pasadena Star News