The Outrageous Tactics Used to Keep the California Gas Tax

Gas PricesA few weeks ago this column addressed the issue of polling and how it can be manipulated and, even when it is not manipulated, how wrong it can be.  Still, candidates, consultants and the media do a lot of polling to test the viability of whatever it is they support or oppose.

Sen. Josh Newman’s recall election was a bitter fight. While polling suggested he was in trouble, those supporting the recall were well aware that polls can be wrong. But even recall proponents were surprised that the recall would prevail by a 59-41 percent margin. That wasn’t just a loss for Newman. It was a trouncing.

This past week, in his political swan song, Newman vented against the recall effort on the floor of Senate.  Incredibly, Newman stated, “I can’t imagine wanting to win so badly that I would ever do, in the pursuit of partisan advantage, what has been done here.”  In light of how Democrats skewed the political process during the recall effort, Newman’s complaint is laughable. Let’s review.

Not once, but twice, Democrats jammed through new laws changing the recall process specifically for the purpose of throwing Newman a political lifeline.  These were enacted as so-called “trailer bills,” last-minute, supposedly budget-related bills that are passed without any public hearings.  These were designed to delay what otherwise would have been a special election for the recall last November or December, a ploy that succeeded in delaying the issue to June.  Because the purpose of the 100-year-old right to recall is to get a rapid resolution of whether a politician should continue in office, the claim that the new laws were “improving” the process was ridiculous.

Then, adding insult to injury, the ostensibly neutral Fair Political Practices Commission adopted a new rule allowing Newman unlimited campaign contributions from his fellow Democratic senators.  This despite the fact that they denied this right to a Republican senator just a few short years ago.

For Newman to upbraid Republicans on the floor of the California Senate for failing to defend him suggests that he has totally forgotten the Banana Republic tactics that were deployed to save his political career. It also demonstrates how disconnected he was from his constituents, who really were angry over his vote to ensure that California had the highest gas and car taxes in the nation.  His political tone deafness was further revealed by more anti-taxpayer votes for single-payer healthcare, a recording tax to fund housing and a vote for cap-and-trade. …

Click here to read the full article from Pasadena Star News

After all these years, liberals are still wrong about Proposition 13

Howard-JarvisForty years ago this week, California voters began the modern tax revolt movement that spread across America like wildfire. The idea that citizens could take back control from an overreaching government helped to propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency. Reagan, who had a close friendship with Howard Jarvis, took his message of limited government to Washington and his message of freedom to the world.

Proposition 13 cut property taxes, put limits on their rise, and toughened the requirements for passing other tax increases. It passed overwhelmingly in June 1978, and ever since, liberals have failed to acknowledge how wrong they were about it — both in terms of politics and policy.

Two months before the vote, California’s then Gov. Jerry Brown (version 1.0), was quoted in the New York Times as saying “I don’t think there is one credible observer who thinks Proposition 13 will endure over the long period.” Forty years later, it’s Brown who is heading into the political sunset while Proposition 13 continues to protect grateful California taxpayers.

So-called “experts” were also wrong in their dire predictions about the harm that would be inflicted on California if Prop. 13 were to pass. One of the TV commercials run by the well-funded opposition campaign featured a doom-saying UCLA economist who predicted that California would be plunged into a deep recession if voters approved the measure. But in the years immediately following passage, California had an extraordinarily booming economy.

Progressives like to perpetuate another falsehood about Prop. 13 in their ceaseless efforts to divide and conquer the taxpayer coalition that supports the law. They seek to target the owners of business properties who, like homeowners, benefit from predictable taxes under Prop. 13. A false argument is advanced that during the 1978 campaign, voters weren’t told that Proposition 13 protections would be extended to business properties as well as homes.

This simply isn’t true.  The opponents of Prop. 13 themselves repeated that fact throughout the campaign and, specifically, in the official ballot pamphlet.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all lies about Proposition 13 is how it “destroyed education” in California. This falsehood is repeated so often and with such vigor that it is accepted as established fact by liberal elites and mainstream media. For example, just a couple of weeks ago, Sacramento mayor and former Senate leader Darrell Steinberg blamed Prop. 13 for “years of cutbacks to arts funding in public schools.” This despite record revenues being pumped into education. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Daily News

In Sacramento, Democrats are run by the unions

Unions2June 6 marks the 40th anniversary of voters’ overwhelming approval of Proposition 13, which has been protecting all California taxpayers ever since.

Some people mistakenly think Prop. 13 protects only homeowners, because it cut the property tax rate statewide to 1 percent and put a stop to uncontrolled increases in assessed value. But it did something else, too. It required voter approval of local tax increases and set the threshold for approval of special taxes at a two-thirds vote.

For 40 years, big-spending politicians have been looking for loopholes.

Take parcel taxes, for example. A parcel tax sounds like a tax on UPS deliveries, but it isn’t. It’s a tax on real estate parcels. Under Prop. 13, politicians can’t raise property taxes that are based on the value of property, but they figured out that they could add a flat tax to property tax bills if it wasn’t based on value.

Under Prop. 13, two-thirds of voters have to be convinced to approve parcel taxes.

Politicians figured out that the two-thirds threshold would be easier to reach if they exempted a lot of people from having to pay the tax. Certainly people who won’t have to pay a tax are more likely to vote for it. And politicians who vote for the exemptions can say they voted for a tax break, even though they were raising taxes at the time.

An example of this was the Legislature’s action in 2008 to exempt people on Social Security Disability from paying education parcel taxes. HJTA opposed this bill because it undermined the two-thirds vote requirement for parcel taxes established under Prop. 13. The more classes of people who are exempted, the more the two-thirds vote will be watered down, and the easier it is to raise taxes.

Taxpayers are hit twice by the exemption trick. Taxes are raised more often, but the exemptions mean the government receives less revenue. So the likelihood of other taxes being raised to make up the difference in the future is that much greater.

But when something is working for the politicians, it tends to stick around.

Politicians love picking winners and losers.  It means power over the lives of others and provides a great source of campaign contributions.

The “progressive” legislators who control California’s government favor government employee union organizations — the most powerful force in Sacramento. Every favor granted to public sector unions is a transfer of wealth from taxpayers and the private sector to government employees and the public sector.

Right now, the Legislature is considering a bill that would exempt teachers and education support staff from paying education parcel taxes. Senate Bill 958, which has passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly, was initially a statewide proposal but has been narrowed to target only the Davis Joint Unified School District in Yolo County.

For now. …

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

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

Proposals to ban internal combustion engines in California are a bad idea

carpool-laneThe latest battle in Sacramento’s war on California’s middle class is the push to ban the internal combustion engine.

Luckily, the effort has stalled.

The legislation that would have imposed the ban, Assembly Bill 1745, died last month, but bad ideas in California have a way of recurring like nightmares. We will see this proposal again, either as legislation next year or perhaps even as a ballot initiative. A number of so-called progressive candidates on the ballot this year have publicly stated they embrace this foolish idea.

The bill that was stopped, AB1745, would have prohibited the Department of Motor Vehicles from registering a new vehicle unless it was a zero emissions vehicle, beginning on January 1, 2040. Under the proposed law, a new car with an internal combustion engine could not legally be driven in California after that date.

A ban on internal combustion engines would certainly limit mobility and transportation options for millions of California families and businesses. And it would arbitrarily limit the development and use of advanced and efficient vehicle technologies, the kind that have already achieved great success in squeezing extra miles out of a gallon of gas.

Today, despite the availability of ZEVs, a substantial publicly funded rebate program and access to HOV lanes, ZEVs accounted for only 1.9 percent of the over 2,000,000 new passenger vehicles sold in California in 2016. And many of these sales are repeat sales to the same households, according to the UC Davis Institute of Transportation, raising the question of whether plug-in vehicles are experiencing widespread consumer rejection, outside of a limited group of true believers.

A ban on internal combustion engines is an attempt to force consumers into buying vehicles that they have decided are not best suited to their needs.

The better alternative is leveraging all available vehicle technologies, including efficient internal combustion engines, so that California can reach its environmental goals without banning or discouraging any technological innovations. …

Click here to read the full article from the OC Register

There is no loophole in Proposition 13

property taxFor decades, California progressives have complained about a “loophole” in Proposition 13 that unfairly benefits the owners of commercial real estate to the detriment of homeowners. This characterization has been widely accepted by the mainstream media with little critical analysis.

There is no loophole in Prop. 13.

There is, however, an ambiguity in the statute implementing the measure that relates to the “change of ownership” rules. That ambiguity can be easily addressed by a statutory amendment without doing violence to Prop. 13. Both the business community and the state’s preeminent taxpayer organization, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, agree that this change is necessary.

Senate Bill 1237, by state Sen. Patricia Bates, would address this technical tax issue involving fictitious entities such as limited liability corporations and complex partnerships in a way that is wholly consistent with Prop. 13.

Specifically, under Prop. 13, when you sell your home, it is reassessed to the full market value for the new purchaser. Of course, the new buyer still enjoys the 1 percent rate cap and the certainty that the taxable value of the property will not increase more than 2 percent per year.  But for properties that have been under the same ownership for decades, the “taxable” value of the property can be just a fraction of the market value. That is why Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann provided in Prop. 13 that upon change of ownership, property would, at least initially, be taxed at market value. After purchase, it receives the same 2 percent limitation on annual increases in taxable value as all other properties.

But some clever tax attorneys have advised clients that they can avoid Prop. 13’s intent to treat commercial transactions the same as homeowners by creating fictitious entities that themselves are transferred in an inappropriate attempt to avoid reassessment. This violates the spirit of Prop. 13 and actually gives the enemies of Prop. 13 a justification for arguing that all of Prop. 13’s protections should be stripped away for commercial property. It also explains why public employee unions continue to oppose bills such as SB1237, because it would deprive them of their best argument in the ongoing fight to remove Prop. 13’s protections for commercial property. Indeed, the enemies of Prop. 13 are already working to qualify this very initiative for the 2020 statewide ballot. …

To read the entire column, please click here.

Enemies of Prop. 13 Delay Attack on Iconic Initiative

property taxA reporter for the Bay Area News Group stopped by the government office in Santa Clara County and concluded that while people standing in line to pay their property taxes were upset with the heavy burden, they had scant knowledge of California’s iconic Proposition 13. What most were probably unaware of is that their taxes would be at least twice as high without Prop. 13.

Many people who live in California today were not here in 1978 when Proposition 13 was passed overwhelmingly by voters. Today’s younger homeowners have little idea how frightened and angry citizens were in the mid-1970s when their property taxes doubled or even tripled from the previous year.  Homeowners were literally being taxed out of their homes.

But despite having no personal memory of the pre-Prop. 13 era, most Californians have at least heard of Proposition 13 and, when prodded, recall it somehow helps to keep escalating property taxes in check.

In June, Proposition 13 will hit its 40th birthday. While long-time homeowners will surely celebrate, those in government with an insatiable appetite for taxpayer dollars are hoping that voters will be ready to weaken it.  But previous attacks on Proposition 13 have come up short. At most, Prop. 13 was weakened by court decisions involving fees and charges as well as attacks on the two-thirds vote requirements.  But those attacks were quickly countered by subsequent ballot initiatives such as Proposition 218 in 1996, the Right to Vote on Taxes Act, which reinforced Prop. 13’s original intent.

Knowing that a direct attack on Proposition 13’s protections for homeowners is a fool’s errand, the tax-and-spend interests have focused on raising property taxes on business property. This so-called “split roll” effort has gone on for about 30 years and has never really gained any serious traction. According to these interests, 2018 was going to be the year where they would finally be able to take a big chunk out of Prop. 13 by hitting commercial real estate with several billion dollars in higher taxes.

The optimism displayed by Proposition 13’s detractors has been based in large part on the expected “blue wave” of voters coming out in support of progressive candidates. Liberal Democrats believe, rightly or wrongly, that voter disgust with the Trump administration might at least allow them to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The thinking, at least until recently, has been that November of 2018 would be the right moment to fracture the pro-Proposition 13 alliance because of an energized progressive base, low voter turnout and fading memories of 1978.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box. After beginning a serious effort to collect signatures for their “split roll” initiative, the proponents have taken their foot off the gas and announced that, instead, they will attempt to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. The ostensible reason for the delay is that it would give them more time to expand their coalition (of course, the same can be said for Prop. 13 defenders) and that the voter turnout model in 2020 would be better for them – a dubious claim indeed.

Split-roll proponents might be having second thoughts about what they thought was a weakening of support for Prop. 13 or the political strength of their own coalition. Perhaps they’ve seen polling – both private and public – revealing Proposition 13’s continued popularity. Whatever the reason, this November’s election will not present a direct threat to Proposition 13. …

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

California On Verge of Second Massive Boondoggle

Gov. Jerry Brown, Anne Gust“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” That was the catchphrase of J. Wellington Wimpy, simply known as just “Wimpy” on the “Popeye” cartoon show. For good reason, the proprietor of the diner rejected Wimpy’s request because of his reputation for not paying on Tuesday.

The inability to repay one’s debts can come with severe consequences, as anyone who has borrowed money from a loan shark can attest. California, despite record revenue coming into the state treasury, has a real problem with debt. High on that list, of course, is the state’s multi-billion-dollar unfunded liabilities for its pension obligations. But we have a problem with bond debt as well.

State-issued bonds can be a legitimate method to finance public projects that have a long useful life. But key to bond financing is a clear and predictable plan to repay those bonds.

California is now on the verge of adopting a second massive boondoggle plagued with financing issues. We are all familiar with the notorious high-speed rail project that was sold to voters as a safe and economical alternative to air travel between Northern and Southern California. A third of the money was to come from the private sector, a third from the feds and the rest from the sale of Proposition 1A bonds. All three of those revenue sources have disappeared in a puff of smoke and, instead, the HSR project is kept on life support through “cap-and-trade” revenue that didn’t even exist when voters approved the original bond.

The second mega-project destined to adopt the boondoggle label is Gov. Jerry Brown’s “twin tunnels” project, intended to transport water from the Sacramento River to the pumping stations at the south end of the delta. Bear in mind that the project will not provide a new water source but would be built ostensibly for environmental reasons.

However, like the high-speed rail project, the financing for the twin tunnels is illusory. Virtually all 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 is considering the adoption of a plan to finance a scaled-down version of the project — meaning one tunnel instead of two.

To read the entire column, please click here.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

What would make legislation in California truly ‘family friendly?’

CapitolEvery year California politicians push bills advertised as “family friendly.” This label is certainly useful to gain sympathy for a proposal. It’s akin to labeling a bill “The Protect Puppies Act.” Who could possibly object to that except heartless cretins?

Last year a number of bills were advanced as “family friendly” including Senate Bill 63 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Known as the “baby bonding” bill, it is now illegal for an employer of 20 or more employees to refuse to allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement. It also mandates that an employer maintain and pay for the employee’s continued group health coverage during the duration of the leave. Prior to the passage of this bill, parental leave was mandated only for companies with 50 or more employees.

Another “family friendly” bill that became law last year was Assembly Bill 1127, from Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier. It requires that diaper-changing stations be available to dads as well as moms at sporting arenas, auditoriums, libraries, passenger terminals, shopping malls, large restaurants and other places.

It is difficult not to be sympathetic to legislation which, at least on the surface, appears to make life easier for parents. But does the family-friendliness of such proposals cloud the judgment of our policy leaders as to the potential downside? California already has a horrible reputation as being anti-business. Indeed, for more than a decade CEO Magazine has ranked California dead last among states as a place to do business.

It’s no secret that, even with a resurgent economy, California continues to bleed jobs. Its share of the growth in the national labor force is a fraction of what it should be, given our population. The trend line of citizens moving out of California — known as “net domestic outmigration” — is well documented. …

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

Something the CA Legislature Should Pass – But Won’t

CapitolWhen the California Legislature passes “resolutions” — as distinct from actual legislation, it is a meaningless exercise. Sure, it makes people feel better about some issue or crisis de jour, but because resolutions lack any force or effect of actual law, they are quickly forgotten.

Most resolutions are just silly, having to do with “fluff” issues like, “Resolved, we recognize National Puppy Day,” or a resolution establishing another country, such as Cambodia, as a “sister state” to California. Nice gesture, but substantively trivial.

In the last year, resolutions from our decidedly left-of-center legislature have been used to vent against the Trump administration, from establishing a separate immigration policy to whining about the Electoral College. At the beginning of last year’s session, so many days were spent on angry venting that almost no work got done, which for taxpayers may actually have been a good thing.

While those of us who are focused on actual law normally gloss over resolutions, one was recently introduced that caught our eye. Senate Joint Resolution 21 from Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, would encourage any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the state of California’s General Fund.

Democrats throughout the nation — and particularly California Democrats — have thundered for months that the tax reform bill is just a tax cut for the rich and would hurt the poor and middle class. Actually, for California, the opposite is true: The middle class is better off but, because of the loss of certain deductions, California’s wealthiest 11-12 percent will likely pay higher federal taxes.

SJR21 correctly points out that while “Californians are struggling with the rising costs of living due to high personal income tax rates and high housing rates due to burdensome regulations … the Republicans in Congress and the President have passed and signed significant tax reform legislation to ease the pain inflicted on California taxpayers.”

The resolution also lauds the new law’s positive effect on economic growth, noting that “leading tax experts have stated the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will significantly lower marginal tax rates and the cost of capital, which would lead to a 1.7 percent increase in gross domestic product over the long term, in addition to a 1.5 percent increase in wages, and produce an additional 339,000 full-time jobs.”

SRJ21 acknowledges that “the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act limits the amount of state and local taxes that can be deducted on individual income tax returns” but notes that “placing limits on the state and local tax deduction allows individuals in high-tax states like California to finally recognize the true amount of their state tax liability.”

The resolution lists the many benefits of the tax reform law for Californians, including the doubling of the federal standard deduction, doubling of the child tax credit, and reduction of individual tax rates and number of tax brackets.

On the business side, SJR21 recognizes that “the lowering of the corporate tax rate has already resulted in at least one million employees receiving significant bonuses, salary increases, and benefit increases” as well as a massive repatriation of billions of dollars from overseas. Other beneficial economic impacts include a marked increase in GDP and record employment levels for African-Americans, Hispanics, and minorities across the United States.

Yet despite the proven benefits of tax relief, “the California Legislature has considered no fewer than 89 proposals in the current legislative session that would cost taxpayers more than $373 billion annually in higher taxes and fees, including taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel, sodas, candy, groceries, and services, among others.”

After listing examples of questionable spending in California — “the High-Speed Rail Program, which has already cost more than $20 billion, and free college tuition for undocumented immigrants while legal residents are subject to tuition rate increases” — SJR21 comes to the real point, declaring that “the Legislature encourages any individual taxpayer in California who disapproves of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to donate their tax savings to the State of California’s General Fund, which pays for programs including, but not limited to, the bullet train that has already cost the state tens of billions of dollars.”

This resolution, of course, has no chance of passing. But it exposes the hypocrisy of the high-tax crowd in a most entertaining way.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register

The Board of Equalization got the last laugh on a gas tax increase

Gas-Pump-blue-generic+flippedIn a normal universe, the rejection of a gas tax increase by a state agency would be based primarily on policy grounds. But in a strange mix of wonkish tax policy, political turf fighting and revenge, California drivers will be spared — temporarily — from a 4 cent per gallon tax increase on gasoline.

On Feb. 27, the Board of Equalization was expected to approve a routine request by the governor’s Department of Finance to raise the tax. But it did not. As a result, the state treasury will miss out on a little more than $600 million (much to the relief of California drivers, however).

Because California already has one of the highest gas taxes in the nation, citizens may not care one bit about why the Board of Equalization rejected the tax increase. But understanding how this happened is an object lesson in the strangeness that is California.

It begins with the “gas tax swap.”

In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law two fuel tax measures commonly referred to as the gas tax swap, which adjusted the rates of the sales and excise tax on gasoline. (The excise tax is a “gallonage” tax based on the amount of gas purchased). The fuel tax swap legislation was designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning the total taxes paid at the pump would not increase because of the change in the law.

But ensuring that the gas tax swap was actually revenue neutral required some backward-looking calculations, because the price of gasoline can greatly fluctuate. In short, the state had to determine how much sales taxes would have been collected had the law not been changed and then adjust the excise tax in an attempt to even things out. Yes, it’s weird, and the reason they did this is beyond the scope of this column.

For the last several years, the Board of Equalization was tasked with making that annual adjustment after receiving a recommendation from the California Department of Finance. That annual adjustment has always been viewed as routine and non-controversial.

All that changed last year because of two notable events: First, a massive increase in the gas tax and, second, a turf battle between the legislature and the Board of Equalization.

When the legislature enacted the infamous Senate Bill 1 raising the gas tax to a stratospheric level, which taxpayers are now trying to undo with an initiative measure, it also took away the Board of Equalization’s authority to make the annual adjustment. The adjustment that was to occur last month was to be the last exercise of that authority by the board.

In the meantime, progressives in the legislature were increasing their criticism of the Board of Equalization which they viewed as being a bit too sympathetic to taxpayers. (The Board of Equalization is the only popularly elected tax board in the nation and would actually give taxpayers a fair hearing when there are disputes over tax liability of individuals and businesses.)

In recent years, the Board of Equalization has endured a few minor (by Sacramento standards) scandals involving office space and political activity. The Legislature then saw these issues as an opportunity to pounce and deprive the Board of Equalization of the bulk of its authority, shifting much of its responsibilities to a new bureaucracy-driven California Department of Tax and Fee Administration that has no direct political accountability.

It is with that background that members of the Board of Equalization, including one Democrat, refused to adjust upward the gas excise tax, an otherwise ministerial act. And although the members who spoke against the increase cast their positions as looking out for California taxpayers, no one who has observed the Board of Equalization over several years missed the real message being delivered to the Legislature. The board’s decision leaves the fuel excise tax at 29 cents per gallon, instead of 33 cents, for another year unless the legislature finds a clever way to bypass the process.

When one considers all the machinations of politics and the manner in which legislation is enacted, it’s no wonder people refer to the California Legislature as a sausage factory. Actually, that’s an insult to sausage factories.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

This article was originally published by the Orange County Register