Taxpayers shouldn’t tolerate gas tax extortion by transportation interests

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedA coalition of government entities and special interests which thrive on transportation dollars recently sent a threat letter to Republican members of Congress because those members have the audacity to oppose the huge tax increase passed by the California Legislature with the enactment of Senate Bill 1. The threat was not well received and, in fact, will likely backfire on the tax increase supporters.

The SB1 tax hike, imposed without voter approval, is very unpopular according to virtually all public and private polling. (A more recent poll claims that repeal of the gas tax is not supported by a majority of Californians, but that poll is suspect for several reasons, not the least of which is that the hike has yet to take affect.) Realizing how unpopular the gas tax is, several Republican members of Congress are contemplating support for a measure to repeal that tax.

Had the letter stuck to issues of transportation policy — such as why California needs to have the highest gas taxes in the nation — it would still have been wrong but at least it wouldn’t have been offensive. Unfortunately, supporters of the tax decided to take the low road and issued a thinly veiled threat that would have been more fitting for an episode of the Sopranos. Specifically, the letter stated, “We don’t think your objective is to create new political adversaries.” Moreover, the letter states that the coalition would “mount a robust and powerful effort in opposition to this initiative, using the voices of California’s business community to counter your efforts.”

As distinguished from the self-interested motivations of the tax increase proponents, including big construction corporations, the California Republican congressional delegation has decided to put the interests of middle-class taxpayers first and they should be commended for it. Indeed, in their written response, they demolish the arguments advanced by the special interests. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

Take a scalpel to $345 million in California’s stem-cell research waste

Stem Cell researchJust as good scientists are drawn to conclusions by solid data, the decision whether to spend another $345 million by California’s state-run stem-cell research project should be based on an objective analysis as to whether it would be cost-effective. A rigorous cost-benefit analysis is not only fiscally prudent, it avoids being drawn into the moral dilemmas posed by stem-cell research, especially with respect to cells from human embryos.

Created in 2004 with the passage of Proposition 71, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine was authorized to spend $3 billion in bond proceeds. But as is typical with most bonds, the interest payments would double the cost to $6 billion. CIRM has made $2.4 billion in grants and used $255 million for administration and prepaid interest — leaving $345 million remaining to disburse.

Should CIRM distribute the remaining $345 million (which, with interest, would amount to $690 million in repayment costs)? Should this remaining pool of funds be doled out?

To read the entire column from the Orange County Register, please click here.

Will the Trump tax plan help California?

donald-trump-2As most people are now painfully aware, California’s progressive political majority has just hit middle-class taxpayers with billions of dollars in new taxes. As a direct result of these actions, the state will soon have the distinction of having the highest taxes in the nation in the following categories: Highest income tax rate; highest state sales tax rate; highest vehicle tax; and the highest gas tax (and that doesn’t even include the added costs of cap-and-trade regulation). For the wealthy, California can be a lovely place to live. For normal folks, life in the Golden State can be a struggle. According to a recent article in the Sacramento Bee, California lost more than 1 million people in net domestic outmigration between 2004 and 2013.

Other than leaving the state, perhaps the only relief available for California’s middle class is tax reform at the federal level. And while there’s a lot to love in the “Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” embraced by both President Trump and the Congressional Republican leadership, there is also a very big caveat.

First, the good stuff. The plan calls for lowering the income tax rates for individuals and families. It would shrink the current seven tax brackets into three — 12 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent — with the potential for an additional top rate for the highest-income taxpayers.

Second, it would roughly double the standard deduction so that typical middle-class families will keep more of their paycheck. The plan also significantly increases the Child Tax Credit.

Third, while it eliminates some loopholes, it does preserve the cherished tax incentives for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions, as well as tax incentives for work, higher education and retirement security.

Fourth, it repeals the death tax and Alternative Minimum Tax which forces many Americans to calculate their taxes twice.

In addition to helping middle-class Californians, the reform package would also help the state’s small businesses by limiting the maximum tax rate for small and family-owned businesses to 25 percent — significantly lower than the top rate that these businesses pay today.

For larger businesses and corporations, the framework reduces the corporate tax rate to 20 percent — below the 22.5 percent average of the industrialized world. It also ends the perverse incentive to offshore jobs and keep foreign profits overseas.

Finally, in a commonsense proposal, the framework would allow “repatriation” of American dollars by imposing a one-time, low tax rate on wealth that has already accumulated overseas so there is no tax incentive to keeping the money offshore.

Now, here’s what will undoubtedly cause some Californians heartburn. The proposal calls for the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes. Currently, Californians are able to deduct from their federal tax returns both property taxes paid to local governments and income taxes paid to the state. Because California is a high tax state, the loss of the deduction would be very significant. In fact, some estimates show that Californians, in total, currently deduct over $100 billion in taxes from their federal tax liability.

Losing this deduction will have less of an impact on working families and the middle class, particularly when balanced against the middle class tax relief under the framework. But as one moves up the economic ladder, California’s more wealthy taxpayers will take a bigger hit.

While some have suggested that the Republican Tax Reform Framework is revenge against high tax, mostly Democrat controlled, states, the reality is that there are legitimate policy reasons for reducing or eliminating the deduction. In essence, low tax states are currently subsidizing high tax states with funding the federal government.

Moreover, the loss of this deduction might spur high tax states like California to rethink their own tax policy and pursue lower taxes as part of tax reform efforts at the state level. In California, that is long overdue.

Finally, a bit of irony for high-tax California. Because property taxes are included as part of the federal deduction, if it were not for Proposition 13, Californians would be threatened with an even greater loss of deductibility. So as bad as getting rid of the deduction might be for some, it could be worse. And for that, we can thank Prop. 13 which, once again, rides to the rescue of California taxpayers.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

Will taxpayers trust the GOP again?

TaxesThe California GOP is rapidly approaching the edge of a black hole from which there is no escape. But rather than reverse course by appealing to the needs and aspirations of average Californians, the response by some Republicans in the Legislature is to rush forward to throw themselves into the abyss by supporting policies that punish the middle-class.

Only a quarter of California voters are registered Republicans, barely more than those declaring no party preference. In the Legislature, Republicans number less than a third of lawmakers in each house.

There was a time when even some Democrats in the Legislature supported a healthy economy, taxpayers’ rights and Proposition 13. If any still exist, they are hiding under their desks. Over the last two decades, that party has lurched to the left and those now in Sacramento are devoted to serving the interests of government (aka public sector unions), the ever-expanding entitlement class and the wealthy denizens of coastal enclaves.

For taxpayers, criticizing Democrats is almost too easy given how thoroughly they have abandoned the middle class. But Republicans have traditionally been held to a much higher standard when it comes to taxation and fiscal responsibility. The question now is the extent to which taxpayers can trust Republicans at all.

With Republican support, the California legislature passed several bills slamming California’s ever-shrinking middle class. First, there was perhaps one of the most unpopular bills in California history, Senate Bill 1, imposing $52 billion in permanent new gas taxes and user fees on California drivers. Next was the infamous “cap-and-trade” legislation, Assembly Bill 398. In a few short years, drivers could be paying a buck and a half a gallon just in taxes and climate fees when added to the already sky-high levies imposed by the state. Last, but certainly not least, is Senate Bill 2, part of the California’s ineffective and counterproductive response to the housing shortage. The bill would impose a $75 to $225 “recording fee” on all real estate transactions and generate as much as $258 million annually. Only in California and Monty Python movies would a tax on real estate be considered a rational response to a housing shortage.

Let’s be clear. Those legislators who best defend taxpayers are still Republican. But unfortunately, those faithful few are being smeared by association with those who bend with the wind, succumb to the next big campaign contribution or promise of some “juice committee” appointment or lobbying gig. Note that the reverse is true as well: Some Republican legislators who stood firm for taxpayers were punished by having their committee assignments revoked or banished to the smallest office in the Capitol.

Average taxpayers understand how painful these tax hikes are. But they probably don’t understand how politically incompetent the Republican leadership was in getting them passed. Republican support for tax hikes allowed targeted Democrats in marginal districts (those where a Republican has a chance of winning) to vote against the tax hikes. These Democrats can now seize the mantle of fiscal responsibility even though everyone knows that, had their vote for the hikes been necessary for passage, they would have voted yes. Time and time again, Republican support of tax hikes allowed the “lifeboating” of Democrats in swing districts. To use a phrase by one party leader, this was “felony stupid.”

Taxpayer advocates take no joy in the slow immolation of the Republican Party.

The loss of any effective opposition from a minority party is a loss to all Californians. A strong democratic process relies on the competition of ideas. Moreover, one party rule has led to an extraordinary abuse of power in several areas including campaign rules, shutting down debate and jerry-rigging agencies and commissions in ways to crush political opposition. The loss of a vibrant Republican Party in California will accelerate the state’s metamorphosis into a Venezuela-like banana republic.

In order to have a chance against the power and money of the Democrats, Republicans need to distinguish themselves on critical matters of policy. Unlike social issues — as important as they may be — the fiscal issues of economical government, reasonable taxation and protection of Proposition 13 have been the rock to which Republicans have wisely clung as California’s political skies have turned from purple to blue. A return to these principles is a necessary first step for the GOP to repair its damaged reputation.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register.

California Legislature abandons middle class

CapitolDoes anyone honestly think that the California Legislature’s complete abandonment of the middle class is unrelated to the state’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate?

This past week presented a stark contrast in the Golden State. First, the controller reported state tax proceeds from all categories are exceeding budget projections. Specifically, the state brought in almost $9 billion in August, exceeding projections in the state budget by over $340 million. All three of the major sources of state revenue — personal and corporate income tax plus sales tax — were up over last year. While a substantial portion of this uptick in economic activity can be attributed to the Trump recovery, there is no denying that California remains an economic powerhouse in its own right.

However, about the same time as we were getting cheery news about state revenue, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that over 20 percent of Californians live in poverty. The “Supplemental Poverty Measure,” which takes into account California’s absurdly high cost of living, gives us the highest poverty rate in the country while the rest of the nation has shown improvement.

So how is it that the most economically powerful state in the union has a poverty level that would make even Mississippi blush? In large part, the answer lies in California’s toxic mix of crony capitalism with mindless pursuit of progressive policies. And both were on full display in the final week of this year’s legislative session.

Few bills moving through the last hectic hours at the Capitol could be remotely characterized as helping the middle class. For example, Assembly Bill 1250 is a complete sop to labor interests. It would prohibit counties from contracting out for services “customarily” performed by county workers unless 14 complicated requirements are met. This would drive up the costs of county government — ultimately paid by taxpayers — and would hurt nonprofits which provide low cost, effective services to county governments. Fortunately, it appears that AB1250 has been stymied this year but will be pushed into 2018.

On a more grand scale, little compares to the various bills moving through the Legislature to deal with the housing crisis. Special interests have formed a conga line outside the governor’s and legislative offices to get a slice of the public pie (baked, of course, with taxpayer dollars). First, is a massive housing bond. Keep in mind that a $4 billion dollar bond will likely incur $8 billion in taxpayer costs after interest and the cost of bond underwriting (Wall Street loves California debt). Second, labor once again wants any public dollars spent on housing to be subject to costly labor restrictions such as Project Labor Agreements or prevailing wage requirements. Who pays for the higher costs? Why, taxpayers, of course.

Overall, California’s housing policies being pursued are designed to reward special interests rather than increase housing stock in any significant way. It is totally lost on our elected leadership that the best housing policy would be for government to reduce regulations that stand in the way of housing construction rather than increase regulations. One bill, Senate Bill 35, does provide a little relief from burdensome CEQA requirements but it contains 18 separate provisions that developers must meet in order to qualify for the expedited permit process for residential development.

The only bill of which we are aware that would have significantly helped housing affordability was Assembly Bill 1100, co-authored by Assemblymen Phil Chen, R-Brea, and Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, to increase both the current homeowners exemption (which provides homeowners with a scant $70 of annual tax relief) and the renters credit. This proposal would require no new government program nor impose new regulations, which probably explains why it lacked popularity in the Capitol. However, it would have put immediate cash into the pockets of all Californians who have to pay for the roof over their heads. That’s what we call middle-class tax relief.

Middle-class Californians have a choice. Stay in California and continue to be the piñatas for progressives and special interests or bail out to other states. Increasing numbers of California’s middle class are choosing the latter.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

California attorney general failing to create fair and objective initiative titles and summaries

xavier-becerraThe attorney general of California has the responsibility of preparing the “title and summary” for ballot measures to be submitted to the voters. Pursuant to that authority, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued the title and summary for one of the most anticipated ballot initiatives for the 2018 election. Here is his description: “Eliminates recently enacted road repair and transportation funding by repealing revenues dedicated for those purposes.”

Confused? Try this excerpt from the ballot summary: “Eliminates Independent Office of Audits and Investigations, which is responsible for ensuring accountability in the use of revenue for transportation projects.”

If you have no clue that this is actually the initiative to repeal the gas tax you wouldn’t be alone. As drafted, the title and summary make every effort to hide the fact that the measure is targeting one of the most unpopular laws in recent California history. Though the words “gas” and “tax” are not in the ballot title, they do at least appear in the ballot summary. But they are followed by the suggestion that the initiative also acts to eliminate the Independent Office of Audits and Investigations — an office that does not yet exist.

This obvious effort at obfuscation, and ultimately voter confusion, flies in the face of a promise Becerra made during his confirmation hearing. Asked last January what he would do to ensure the objectivity of ballot titles and summaries, which is the constitutional responsibility of the attorney general to produce, Becerra testified that “the words I get to issue on behalf of the people of this state, will be the words that are operative to everyone.”

Becerra’s readiness, just months later, to depart from this approach in order to protect the gas tax — which was championed by his own party — is just the latest example of how attorneys general use their influence over the ballot to manipulate voters and advance the interests of their allies. To put an end to this damaging practice, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3, by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, was introduced earlier this year, a measure that would strip the attorney general of the power to write ballot titles and summaries, and transfer that authority over to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Unlike the attorney general, the Legislative Analyst is not a politician. A trusted source of impartial information since its creation in 1941, the LAO’s primary mission is to provide the state Legislature with reports on fiscal and policy issues. The office is also tasked with preparing the fiscal analysis for ballot initiatives, making it well suited for the responsibility of writing titles and summaries, too.

Since the introduction of ACA3, the Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register have all endorsed the measure, arguing that, no matter the party in power, the temptation to manipulate a ballot initiative’s language is too great for an attorney general to resist.

Their concerns are supported by a long history of abuse that stretches back to at least 1966, when Attorney General Tom Lynch, tasked with describing the initiative to create a full-time Legislature, at first misleadingly framed it as a measure to raise legislative salaries. More recently, in 2013, Attorney General Kamala Harris drew criticism for describing public pension reform as the “elimination” of state constitutional protections for pensioners, using language that had been poll-tested by opponents of the initiative. Other examples abound, from both sides of the aisle.

The high stakes of the initiative process make any attempt at reform difficult, particularly when the party controlling the Legislature also holds the Attorney General’s Office. When ACA3 was brought before the Assembly Elections Committee earlier this year, the bill had the support of every major good government group in the state, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of California. The only opposition was a representative from the Attorney General’s Office. Nevertheless, the bill failed 2-4 on a party-line vote, with one Democrat abstaining.

Initiatives are powerful tools of direct democracy, allowing the people of California to take direct control over the state’s political destiny when the Legislature has failed. But this is only possible when voters have an accurate description of what they are voting for. ACA3 would assure just that, and when it returns for consideration next year, we urge legislators on both sides to support this measure to redeem direct democracy in California.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Kevin Kiley represents California’s 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties. You can follow both on Twitter @joncoupal and @KevinKileyCA.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register. 

Raising property taxes for public pensions

PensionsSome California citizens who voted for Proposition 13 almost four decades ago may have forgotten that the drafters were in fact concerned about government spending as well as tax relief. A few still contend that taxpayer groups such as Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association should focus only on protecting homeowners against rising property taxes and avoid issues like the costs of regulation, environmental policies or the cost of public employee pensions. But fortunately, most astute taxpayers understand that their tax burden is inextricably related to government spending and that there are tremendous risks in failing to engage on government policies that drive up public costs.

One Illinois town has learned that the hard way. The city of Harvey has been ordered by a state appellate court to approve a property tax levy specifically for its firefighters’ pension. That court order, however, may be difficult to enforce given that Harvey already has effective tax rates of 5.7 percent for residential and 14.3 percent for commercial properties. (Under Proposition 13, the maximum tax rate for all real property is 1 percent).

As stunning as this decision may be, residents of Illinois better prepare themselves because Harvey won’t be the last. Many of Illinois’ 600-plus local police and firefighter pensions are similarly underfunded which may explain massive flight out of the state by its taxpaying citizens.

The real question for California taxpayers is whether what is going on in Illinois could happen here in California. More specifically, could a California court order a city, county or special district to raise property taxes to cover unfunded public employee pension obligations? It’s possible, but it would be more difficult for those who seek such a move. First, Proposition 13’s one percent rate limit is in the constitution, so a state court would have to find — which it could — that the pension obligations were guaranteed under the United States Constitution. That is not an inconceivable outcome. Indeed, it is possible that a federal court might reach that conclusion more easily.

That a federal court might order a local property tax increase is not without precedence. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal judges may order local governments to increase taxes to remedy constitutional violations such as school segregation. The court took an expansive view of judicial power to actively manage institutions and activities usually within the power of states and localities.

If property owners need a reason to watch the entire controversy over public employee compensation, especially pension benefits, this is it. Don’t assume what happened in Harvey, Illinois couldn’t happen here.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the OC Register

Taxpayers pay for lobbying in Sacramento

Pension moneyThe latest lobbying reports are out in Sacramento, showing how much special interests are spending to influence lawmakers. After reading the reports, you can’t blame taxpayers for feeling like the man who has been unjustly condemned to the gallows and is compelled to pay for the rope that will hang him.

When asked who spends the most currying favor with members of the Legislature, many folks will say “Big Oil” or maybe drug or insurance companies. Not even close. Those who name government employee unions as the big spenders would be wrong, too, but at least they would be getting warmer. (Unions, which thrive on involuntary “contributions,” have a huge influence on the activities of the biggest spender of all).

Far and away, the lobbying champs are California’s myriad of local governments. Through the first six months of this year, cities, counties, schools and other special districts have spent $24.3 million on influencing Sacramento lawmakers. And it is a safe bet that these governments are not spending this taxpayer money to promote tax cuts for average citizens. In fact, in many cases, they are spending tax dollars to advance their objective of wringing even more out of already beleaguered taxpayers.

Local government officials use high-sounding rhetoric to justify not spending these millions of dollars on fixing potholes, hiring first responders or addressing other pressing needs of the local community. To best serve their constituents, they will argue, it is important that they have a voice in lawmaking that may impact local jurisdictions.

Closer to the truth would be that local governments want to make sure they get a share of the “spoils” in our very high-tax state. And sometimes they seek more than a share of state revenue, they want special exemptions to allow them to increase local taxes beyond what state law allows.

A number of jurisdictions have sought and received exemptions from laws limiting the local sales tax, and in one case, nine Bay Area counties asked for, and received, an OK to create a huge taxing district to impose a parcel property tax on all residents, even though some lived many miles from the improvements for which they are being charged.

However, one of the motivators that keeps local government officials constantly scrounging for more revenue is, just like their brethren in Sacramento, so many are beholden to the most powerful political force in California, the government employee unions. Just like many state legislators, they owe their election to union support. These unions provide campaign cash and boots on the ground in election season. So, when it is time to sit down and discuss pay, the unions are represented on both sides of the table and taxpayers, if they are considered at all, are an afterthought.

With this constant pressure to raise funds for pay, benefits and pensions for local government workers, it should come as no surprise that local officials are willing to spend millions in the hope that state government will funnel more money back into local coffers and smooth the way for increasing the already exorbitant taxes locals are paying. Of course, savvy taxpayers understand that debates about where tax money comes from — be it state, local or even federal dollars — are a ruse. Every penny comes from the same location, our pockets.

The question local taxpayers must decide is whether or not money that could be used to solve local problems should continue to be spent “wining and dining” the Sacramento politicians. Certainly, the government employee unions think that this investment in Sacramento by local officials is a good deal for them.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Increase the homeowners exemption to improve housing affordability

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14115451California is in a housing crisis. The cost of housing — both for purchase and rental housing — is too expensive. Ineffective public housing policies and anti-growth policies that impede even reasonable development projects have choked supply in a high-demand market. California needs to start building homes and apartments as soon as possible. Recent estimates show that California must build 180,000 units of housing a year over the next 10 years simply to keep pace with demand. Currently, only about half of that amount is being constructed.

But in the meantime, a quick and effective way to provide financial relief to everyone in California with a roof over their head is to increase the homeowners exemption which has been stuck at $7,000 since 1972. A lot has changed since then. Mark Spitz won a then-record seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics. Atari released the PONG computer game and a gallon of gas sold for 36 cents. California’s population has nearly doubled from 21 million residents to 39 million residents today. And according to the California Association of Realtors, the median price of homes in California is well over $500,000 compared to $28,000 in 1972.

Because the average Californian earns $61,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, most are knocked out of the market before they even start. Only one-third of California residents can afford a median priced home.

In February, Assembly members Phil Chen and Matthew Harper introduced Assembly Bill 1100, the “American Dream Act,” which would increase the existing homeowners’ exemption on their property tax from $7,000 to $25,000, as well as raising the renter’s credit by using the mandated California Franchise Tax Board inflation adjustment. This will not only help current homeowners but this will help those aspiring to own a home. One-third of renters in the state spend at least half their take-home pay in rent, a statistic driving California’s record high 20 percent poverty rate.

Californians are paying some of the highest taxes in the nation, exacerbating the ability of ordinary citizens to afford a home. Even with Proposition 13, which has proven effective in limiting the growth of homeowners’ property tax bills, California still ranks in the top third of all states in per capita property tax revenue.

Moreover, high taxes and unaffordable housing are taking their toll on the California economy. In the last decade, California has lost more than 1 million people in net domestic out migration to other states. We all know at least a few people who have moved to Nevada, Texas, Oregon, Florida or Arizona to find a less expensive place to live.

In some welcome good news, in May, AB1100 passed a major hurdle by passing the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee with notable bipartisan support. This was the first time legislation of this nature got out of a legislative policy committee. Many had been attempted in years past but had failed.

When the Legislature returns from its summer recess later this month, affordable housing will be the leading topic of discussion. While there are many ideas being considered, including more bonds and taxes, ideas that provide direct relief for middle-class property owners have yet to rise to the forefront. They need to. Beyond the homeowners exemption, liberalizing the rules about taking one’s Proposition 13 base-year value to a new residence, the so-called “portability” issue, should also be part of a legislative proposal.

Any reform package must articulate that government can’t tax and bond its way out of a problem where it costs over $300,000 to build one unit of affordable housing. Addressing these regulatory burdens as well as providing tax relief for homeowners and renters will not only lead to future economic prosperity for California. It is also the right thing to do.

Jon Coupal is the president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Phillip Chen is a member of the California Assembly from the 55th Assembly District.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

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.