Use $21 Billion Surplus Instead of Taxing Californians More

California has a record $21.5 billion surplus.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have all that money because you are being overtaxed.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom released his revised budget proposal, the largest in California history.

At a staggering $214 billion dollars, the budget is larger than that of most nations and every other state.

The budget also includes a new $140 million tax on water customers to help all Californians have access to clean water.

Clean water is important, and there are a million people in the Central Valley without access to it. But do we need a new tax to pay for it?  Maybe we don’t.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Guns, gas and soda – most California tax proposals died at the Capitol, but a few remain

California lawmakers this year put forward new tax proposals that would have hit soda drinkers, bankers and gun owners  not to mention anyone with a car.

Most of those proposals died this week in a major culling of bills, leaving only a handful of tax measures in place.

Some of them died before they reached the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees, while others were pulled by their authors. The remaining were left to consideration on Thursday by the two checkpoint committees that decide which bills can move forward this legislative session. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

California is reviewing 23,500 state tax refunds it paid too soon

California erroneously sent refunds to 23,500 taxpayers last month, according to an announcement Tuesday from the state’s Franchise Tax Board.

The department responsible for collecting state personal income and corporate income taxes said a “system error” from March 8 to March 11 caused it to issue refunds to people without first verifying the amount of money people claimed was automatically taken out of their paycheck.

As a result, as many as 23,500 Californians might have their income tax returns adjusted, though the board said the vast majority aren’t expected to change.

The FTB said it will spend the next few weeks reviewing all of the affected accounts. …

Click here to read the full article from the Fresno Bee

A crackdown on misuse of taxpayer money?


TaxesAs documented in this space on several occasions, local government officials throughout California have been thumbing their noses at a state law that prohibits them from using taxpayer funds for political campaigns.

Officials in cities, counties, school districts and special purpose districts routinely hire campaign management firms, often with multi-million-dollar fees, to manage every stage of their ballot measures seeking voter approval of new taxes or new bond issues (which require new taxes to service).

The consulting firms conduct polling of local voters and then draft the ballot measures to conform to what those polls indicate voters would find acceptable. The political pros then design campaigns for the measures, under the guise of “education,” to persuade voters to approve them.

Typically, the “education” campaigns are misleading, promising that the proceeds of the taxes and bonds will be used for popular facilities and services, such as police and fire protection or parks, while ignoring the underlying real reasons, such as to cover rapidly increasing employee pension and health care costs.

The consultants often boast of their high passage rates, and with good reason, because most of the carefully crafted and marketed measures do, in fact, win voter approval.

The practice is, as mentioned earlier, illegal. A specific state law prohibits it. But it continues unabated because local prosecutors, who sometimes share in the proceeds of the measures, have consistently refused to pursue cases against their fellow politicians.

Lately and belatedly, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has dived into the increasingly blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars, but it lacks the power to prosecute the miscreant officials. Rather, it has in some cases taken the indirect action of trying to compel the offending governments to file campaign donor reports.

Filing such reports would be tantamount to admitting that the law had been broken, so of course, local officials have dragged their feet on complying.

Local prosecutors appear to be adamant in turning a blind eye to this obvious law-breaking, so the FPPC is now asking the Legislature to give it the power to prosecute cases.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, has introduced Assembly Bill 1306, which would give the FPPC the power to bring civil and administrative actions against those who misuse public funds.

“The rules should apply to everyone,” said Garcia, who’s been an outspoken advocate of political reform. “I’m all for giving the FPPC more teeth to bite down on those who misuse taxpayer resources.  It’s quite convenient that the campaign laws enforceable by the FPPC didn’t include public officials or public entities within our own government entities. The FPPC noticed this gap in their enforcement ability and this bill now sends a clear message that California won’t tolerate public agencies, or elected officials, spending taxpayer dollars on campaign activities.” 

“This bill simply holds those in power to the same standard we hold those who are not,” Garcia added.  “Government shouldn’t get a pass just because it makes the rules. Fair is fair and we must hold individuals, and entities, accountable by empowering our oversight entities to dole out more than a fix-it ticket fine. No one is above the law, including our government.”

What happens to Garcia’s bill as it winds its way through the Capitol will be very instructive. Logically, legislators should be willing to put some teeth into the law they enacted, but logic doesn’t always prevail in politics.

If lawmakers continue to let their counterparts in local government off the hook, they should be ashamed of themselves.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California May Be Reaching the Point of ‘Taxuration’


taxesThe phenomenon of “taxuration” occurs when taxpayers are so saturated with new tax-hike proposals that they start to rebel. According to a new poll, taxuration may have finally arrived in California, if hasn’t been here already.

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California released the findings of a survey showing that a majority of likely voters in the state aren’t very happy with the tax burdens they are forced to pay. Most Californians say the state’s tax system is unfair, which is a reversal from the same question asked in March 2017. More importantly, a solid majority of likely voters in California think they pay more taxes to state and local governments than they should.

While perception is often not correlated with reality, it appears that Californians have a fairly realistic understanding of the tax burden in the state relative to other states. According to the report, “The public’s perceptions are somewhat in line with fiscal facts: California’s state and local tax collections per capita in 2015 were 10th-highest in the nation,” citing the left leaning Tax Policy Center. Note that another think tank, the Tax Foundation, ranks California even higher in tax burden.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone paying attention that citizens are reaching the breaking point on tax hikes. Every day seems to bring a new big tax-hike proposal emanating from the state Capitol. Just one example that popped up this week was a proposal to bring back California’s estate tax, which was repealed by voters in 1982. Other tax-hike proposals in the mix include higher income tax rates, a water tax, a soda tax, sales tax on services and a so-called “carbon intensity” tax. (Don’t ask.)

To read the entire column, please click here.

Are Big Tax Increases Coming to California?


TaxesGavin Newsom’s election as governor and the expanded Democratic Party majorities in the Legislature have raised hopes in some quarters and fears in others that big tax increases may be on the horizon.

During his campaign for governor last year, Newsom pledged support for a variety of expensive public services, including universal health insurance coverage and universal pre-kindergarten care and education.

His initial budget offered only token appropriations for those and other items on his wish list, but were he to seriously pursue them, they would require tens of billions of dollars in new taxes each year.

Newsom has proposed a new tax on water to pay for cleaning up municipal water supplies in impoverished communities. Several other targeted taxes have also been introduced in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, an initiative has qualified for the 2020 ballot to undo some of Proposition 13’s property tax limits. The measure would create a “split roll,” removing the 2 percent annual cap on increases in assessed valuation for non-residential, non-agricultural commercial property, such as office building and shopping centers.

If passed, it would raise property taxes by perhaps $10 billion a year – a lot of money, certainly, but far short of what the most ambitious service expansions would need. However, the initial polling on the split-roll measure doesn’t bode well for its passage, and the commercial real estate industry has pledged to spend $100 million to defeat it.

The more likely avenue for big tax increases would be some version of tax reform, which Newsom has endorsed in principle.

However, it must contend with the simple fact that we Californians are, in the aggregate, already carrying one of the nation’s highest tax burdens and quite possibly the highest.

The Tax Foundation, a Washington-based organization that charts taxation trends, has California at No. 6 in state and local tax burden as a percentage of personal income, the most accepted method of comparison. It pegs Californians’ burden at 11 percent of personal income.

However, that’s based on 2012 data, so it is seven years out of date, and it does not include all forms of taxation.

A more up-to-date estimate is that California’s state and local governments collect about $325 billion a year in taxes, and that works out to 12.5 percent of personal income, estimated by the state as $2.6 trillion this year, thus putting us very near the top of the states.

So, assuming that Newsom and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature want a bigger tax bite to finance their expansionist ambitions, what form would it take?

Income taxes? They already supply 71 percent of the state’s general fund revenues, half of them are paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers and California already has the nation’s highest marginal tax rate, 13.3 percent on incomes over $1 million.

Sales taxes? We’re at or near the top in those rates as well, 10 percent in many communities.

Property taxes? That would require not just a split roll for commercial property, but voter permission to virtually repeal Proposition 13’s protections for homes, which polling indicates would be close to impossible.

The real world effect of a big tax increase, moreover, would be magnified by new federal tax laws that sharply limit deductions for state and local taxes, raising the likelihood of a political backlash.

So are we going to see a big tax increase? However much Newsom, et al, might want it, the political lift would be daunting.

This article was originally published by CalMatters.org

California Voters Could Be Asked To Impose An Estate Tax

property taxCalifornia voters would consider a state-mandated tax on the assets of wealthy residents, one that could generate as much as $1 billion a year for low-income families, under legislation introduced in the state Legislature on Tuesday.

The bill would ask voters next year to impose an estate tax of a size equal to what was loosened in 2017 by President Trump and Republicans in Congress as part of a broad tax overhaul law. The goal, said the proposal’s author, is to create an overall tax burden for wealthy Californians equal to what existed before the federal tax break was created.

Under Senate Bill 378, the revenues from the tax would be earmarked for programs designed to combat income inequality.

“A California estate tax benefits low-income families by helping them build wealth and end the cycle of intergenerational poverty,” state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in a written statement. …

Click here to read the full article from the Los Angeles Times

California Lawmakers Want More Dollars from the Middle Class


TaxesBlue collars in California are once again being targeted by lawmakers with a multitude of new taxes on the energy industry that will trickle into their pocketbooks.

Our current slate of lawmakers are aware from the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that personal income tax liability is concentrated among its top earners. Shockingly, almost 70% of the general fund comes from less than 5% of the population. The Governor’s budget summary for 2019-2020 reflects this scary trend.

The State has 40 million residents and relies on less than three percent or just over one million of its wage earners for most of the revenue allocated to the general fund. It’s enlightening to know that there are more than one million millionaires in California in the “basket” to help with the funding.

For more dollars and diversity, our lawmakers definitely need to be more creative in procuring attaining a great share of tax revenues from blue collar to support all the government programs. These extra costs on blue collar residents will “ensure” that California continues to suffer the highest percentage of people in poverty, homeless and welfare crisis that’s so acute it shocks the world.

A few of the creative new tax actions by our lawmakers for 2019 and 2020 under serious consideration are:

  • SB-246 Oil and Gas severance tax
  • AB-40 Zero-emission vehicles: comprehensive strategy
  • Property Tax Initiative on “Split Roll” to assess commercial and industrial properties at fair market value while leaving homeowners’ Proposition 13 protections in place

 

The 95% of the residents not contributing significantly to the General Fund, and most likely not able to afford an EV, will start picking up a higher percentage of the revenue directed to the General Fund and help subsidize grid infrastructure, charging technology, and the endless list of government programs that are now principally funded by the 5%.

The California Energy Island is a huge energy user requiring 60 million gallons of fuel manufactured daily in-state to meet the energy consumption demands of airlines, trucks and cars.

The extra costs imposed on the manufacturers are ultimately passed on to the consumers, a major reason that Californians already pay almost a dollar more for fuel than the rest of America, and more for the cost of electricity, that are both increasing with each new “tax “and additional regulation.

To manufacture those fuels out-of-state or out-of-the-country and ship them into California ports would be even more expensive to the consumer, and increase emissions to the world as no other location on earth has the same environmental controls than California.

Our lawmakers are getting votes by constantly attacking the energy industry, but the industry is not going anywhere. The industry’s just passing those additional costs onto the consumer, and wrongly absorbing the heat for raising the cost of fuel!

The unintended consequences of more taxes on energy is that the lifestyles of all 40 million residents of California that rely on the fuels and the products manufactured from those deep earth mineral/fuels, would result in blue collar folks contributing a greater portion to the General Fund than they now do. On the contrary, with no new taxes on the energy sector, the State can ensure that the top earning 5% continue to contribute 70% of the dollars to the General Fund.

ounder and ambassador for Energy & Infrastructure of PTS Advance, headquartered in Irvine, California.

Is it time for California’s taxpayers to go on strike?


Tax reformAround California, public school teachers are on strike seeking more pay, better benefits and less competition from charter schools. They are also demanding that the rest of us pay higher taxes. Indeed, as part of the agreement that ended the strike in Los Angeles, teachers forced a concession out of the school district to officially support the partial repeal of Proposition 13 as it applies to business properties. That would have the effect of raising California property taxes as much as $11 billion annually and would surely accelerate the well-documented business flight out of California.

It’s not as though Californians are currently under-taxed. With the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax rate and second highest gas tax in America, it’s tough to make that argument.

So, I’m curious as to what would happen if, in reaction to the teachers’ strikes in L.A., Oakland and Sacramento, taxpayers decided to go on strike? The media seems obsessed with large, public demonstrations of crowds wracked with angst and victimhood. School districts lose millions of dollars when teachers go on strike because it impacts the Average Daily Attendance figures that provide the basis for disbursing tax dollars. But if taxpayers went on strike, how much more would they lose?

The reaction to a taxpayer strike would surely invoke claims that taxpayers are greedy, anti-education heathens. But, in reality, the vast majority of taxpayers are very much pro-education. They just don’t like the product they’re forced to pay for.

Let’s first dispel the urban legend that Proposition 13 “starved” education in the Golden State.

To read the entire column, please click here.

California lawmakers seek tax, other limits on sugary drinks


Soda pourSACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — State lawmakers are trying again to discourage the consumption of sugary beverages, proposing a tax, warning labels, and a ban on soda displays near checkout lines among other measures on Wednesday.

The five bills address what the Democratic lawmakers call a public health crisis leading to an increase in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other ills.

“The soda industry is the new tobacco industry,” said Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco as he promoted his measure that would bar restaurants from selling soda in cups larger than 16 ounces (.5 liters). “This is an industry that has used marketing and sales tactics to victimize low income communities, communities of color throughout our country.”

One of four California adults is now obese, he said, a 40-percent increase over two decades. More than half of Californians are overweight and more than half have either diabetes or pre-diabetes. The average American drinks nearly 50 gallons (190 liters) of sugary beverages a year, he said, consuming 39 pounds (17.5 kilograms) of extra sugar. …

Click here to read the full article from the Associated Press