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

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.

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

Pay Attention, Taxpayers – Local Officials Are After Your Wallets

tax signIf public attention is being drawn to national politics and the presidential race, there is a group of local officials who are thrilled. They have plans for the contents of taxpayers’ wallets and they would prefer to fly under the radar. The less voters pay attention, the greater the chance they will be able to pass local school bonds, which raise property taxes. Voters need to be alert. If past general elections are any indication, we will be facing several hundred local school bonds and additional tax measures in November.

August 12 is the deadline for officials to approve local measures for the November ballot. Consultants — usually paid by firms that expect to do business with the school district once a new bond is approved — advise local education officials not to publicize the bond election to the entire community, but to target only their supporters. This means running a stealth campaign, communicating only with administrators, the local teachers union, the PTA, and parents who have children in school. Part of this strategy is waiting until the last possible minute to approve the new bond measure, giving potential opponents less time to organize and respond.

Once a bond measure is approved, critics may have no more than a week to submit an argument in opposition. And this timeline is critical because the number one tool for defeating a bond measure is the argument against that will appear in the ballot pamphlet.

It is somewhat ironic that school boards work so hard to keep voters in the dark when the vast majority of taxpayers are supportive of education and favor students having decent facilities in which to learn. However, ever since a handful of Silicon Valley billionaires got together in 2000 and spent almost $35 million on a successful campaign to pass Proposition 39, which lowered the longstanding requirement of a two-thirds vote to pass school bonds to just 55 percent, the goal of providing good value for taxpayers’ dollars has all but disappeared.

In spite of, and perhaps because of, efforts by the wealthy elite to stack the deck against local taxpayers, these bonds deserve to be carefully evaluated, and if they fall short, opposition is justified. Voters have a right to know that a bond will place a lien against homes for as long as 40 years to guarantee repayment that, once interest is calculated, will cost at least double its face value.

HJTA recommends determining in advance if your school or community college district is considering placing a bond on the ballot by calling school district administrative offices. They should be able to tell you the agenda for upcoming board meetings. Upcoming board agendas should also be posted on the district website.

If you learn that a bond will be considered, alert friends and neighbors to the fact that property taxes may be going up and encourage them to join you in attending the local board meetings at which the bond is discussed. Take advantage of the public comment portion of the meeting to express your concerns and objections.

If your school district decides to place a bond on the ballot, start by contacting the clerk of the school board to obtain the written rules covering requirements for submitting ballot arguments for publication in the voter information pamphlet that will be sent to all voters in the district. This argument should focus on the facts, including the total cost of the bond and the fact that it will raise property taxes for homeowners, and renters are likely to see increases in rents if the measure passes. It is certain that this is information that will go purposely unmentioned by bond promoters.

Once an argument has been submitted, taxpayers can begin work on getting the word out to voters in the community.  These measures can be defeated and hard work pays off.

For more information on opposing local bond and tax measures, please visit the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association website.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

Populist Unity Can Overcome the Establishment’s Supermajority

Back in 2012, the California Policy Center published an article entitled “The Forgotten 33%,” which included a graphic entitled “American Voter Breakdown 2012.” It depicted the U.S. electorate as comprised of 46% who pay zero net taxes, 20% who work for the government and are net tax consumers, the 1% “super rich,” and the “forgotten 33%,” who work in the private sector and earn enough to be positive net taxpayers.

The point of the article, then and now, was that people with an intrinsic preference for big government comprise a super-majority of voters in America. But something has changed since 2012…

AMERICAN VOTER BREAKDOWN 2016

Tax paying chart

The emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as serious contenders to become president of the U.S. reflects a growing awareness among voters in all of the above categories that things can and should be better. The 33% who constitute America’s beleaguered taxpayers were angry four years ago, and this time around they’re furious. Their ire is the most easily explained: Now more than ever, they work long hours for less wages or lower profits, all while being told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they’re “privileged,” and still aren’t paying their “fair share.” If they’re white, they’re told their success is the undeserved result of their color, when in fact they’ve been the recipients of institutionalized reverse discrimination for nearly two generations. And no matter what their ethnicity, they confront soaring prices for housing, health care, and college tuition for their children.

The 33% who work and make enough to pay taxes are angry. And they should be. But what about the 46% who pay no net taxes?

The anger of the 46% takes various forms, nearly all of it justified. Many of them work, but qualify for the earned income tax credit and subsidized health care, which makes them net tax consumers. Many of them would like to work harder, but the only jobs available are part-time with unpredictable schedules which makes it impossible for them to work two jobs. Many of them would like to get a better education, but they are the products of failing schools where teacher tenure is more important than student achievement. And if they’re people of color and haven’t yet been successful, they’re perpetually told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they are victims of discrimination and their failures are not their responsibility – fueling additional anger.

And what of the 20% who work for the government? They are, for the most part, ensured decent health care and a secure retirement. But they are the targets of relentless propaganda from their unions, who have waged a multi-decade campaign to convince them they are underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. Many of them succumb to this nonsense. Others, and more than a few, are disgruntled for the opposite reason – they resent working for a unionized government where merit means less than seniority, and innovation is a threat.

But why are taxes consuming the 33%? Why are opportunities for good jobs and education being denied the 46%? And why does government get bigger every year but deliver less?

There’s a simple answer. Government unions. Especially at the state and local level, government unions have destroyed our public schools and driven our public institutions to the brink of bankruptcy. These government unions perpetually lobby for higher taxes, bigger government – more employees with more pay and benefits, more job killing regulations, and more programs ostensibly intended to help the less fortunate – regardless of their cost or actual effectiveness. The government union agenda is to increase their power and influence – a goal that has no connection with the public interest.

Government unions control state and local politicians, who in turn control every scrap of legislation sought after by big business. They encourage and enable cronyism. Their union controlled pension funds and their union backed government bond underwriting make them the biggest players on Wall Street. They ARE the “establishment” that has gotten everyone so agitated this time around.

Donald Trump, for all his hapless gaffes and hideous vitriol, is far too intelligent to identify government unions as the root cause of most of the problems in America. Unions make or break Trump’s development projects. And even if Trump did attack the government unions, he’d risk confusing voters, who by and large still don’t make a distinction between public and private sector unions.

Bernie Sanders, despite his belated attempts to pander to the African American left by challenging police organizations, is unwilling or unable to make the distinction between police personnel, whom we are lucky to have among us, and police unions that protect bad cops and intimidate politicians. And even if Sanders did take on the police unions, he would never take on the teachers unions – despite the fact they’ve practically destroyed public education in America.

Populist anger in America today is justified, and there is a unifying target for the anger – the “establishment” as represented by government unions and their clients; monopolistic corporations, America’s overbuilt financial sector, and the extreme environmentalist lobby that provides a phony moral cover for their iniquitous schemes. If public sector unions were illegal, this entire corrupt establishment would be threatened as never before. As it is, this awakening national dissent has seismic power, diffused in all directions, turning only on itself.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Prop. 13 is California Taxpayers Only “Saving Grace”

Proposition 13 is certain to continue to be a hot topic in 2016 and beyond as “reformers” continue to work on mobilizing a statewide effort to enact a “split-roll” that raises billions of dollars in increased property taxes from California businesses.

I have worked in and around Prop. 13 in one form or another for my entire career and have collected more data and research on its impacts that anybody else I have ever come in contact with.

I have since ended that research for the “reform” side, because I came to appreciate Prop. 13 for what it truly is–the last line of defense that California taxpayers have against elected officials who refuse to control “unsustainable” and “unaffordable” spending at both the state and local levels of government. 

For those new to Prop. 13, it is a California ballot measure passed in 1978 that places a 1% limit on local property tax rates, unless a “change in ownership occurs,” and limits assessment increases to 2% per year.

At the state level, Prop. 13 requires that any measure which would raise revenues to be enacted by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature.  At the local level, Prop. 13 requires taxes raised by local governments for a designated or special purpose to be approved by 2/3 of voters and a majority for general tax increases.

Sure, Prop. 13 is not perfect, far from it.   But the reality is that there is perhaps no public policy in California that is more effective at safeguarding taxpayers against the inability of California politicians, particularly those of the Democratic stripe, from overspending and then sticking taxpayers with the bill.

With the State of California $400 billion in the red, and most local governments in the same situation, you don’t hear anyone arguing with the fact that California government has a huge spending and debt problem.

Moody’s Investor Services agrees with this assessment, having prepared a report that finds California to be the least prepared state to weather a financial storm due to its fiscal policies and inability to reform its tax system.

Without Prop. 13, California elected officials would have “carte blanc” to push the state’s $1 trillion and growing pension problem onto state and local taxpayers, serving to further exacerbate the problem.  A whole host of other state and local taxes and fees would inevitably become viable proposals overnight in the absence of Prop. 13’s protections.

The ongoing explosion in fees and tax exactions on businesses at the local level is perhaps the best indicator of what would happen if Prop. 13 did not exist—turning an already steady and increasing flow of new local taxes and fees into the equivalent of an unchecked dam-break flood of new taxes and fees on California taxpayers.

Stanford University economist Roger Noll says that the problem of ever increasing, burdensome local taxes and fees is the single most legitimate concern that California businesses express about the state’s system of state and local finance.

Opponents of Prop. 13 cite tax equity and fairness as reasons to “reform” Proposition 13 by switching away from a “change in ownership” trigger for market reassessment to a “periodic reassessment of commercial property at market value.”

Furthermore, reformers say Prop. 13 is not “fair” because it heavily taxes new investment and rewards  “long-time” landowners—resulting in heavily disparate property tax amounts.

They say that the only fair way is to bring all businesses who receive a “tax break” under Prop. 13 up to market value and then send billions of dollars in increased property tax revenues to Sacramento to spend as they please.

My primary issue with this line of reasoning is that Sacramento has already proven that it cannot manage the existing tax dollars it gets from the state’s property tax responsibly so why on earth would we send them a flood of new tax dollars?

Second, the entire state and local tax system is riddled with similar inequities so why are reformers choosing to single out Prop. 13 for “reform”?  California’s major taxes are all characterized by extremely high rates and a very limited or loophole-ridden base.

The result is that those who pay the tax pay full boat, and those who can take advantage of loopholes get a break.  The reality of the situation is that all tax “reformers” in California want to increase tax revenues by leaving the rates the same, closing the loopholes, and sending billions of dollars in increased revenues to Sacramento to poorly manage.

True tax “reform” would be to close the loopholes and lower the base to make the change revenue neutral—but there is not a single tax “reformer” in California that I know of who is pushing for revenue neutral tax reform.

This is the method that nearly all significant successful attempts at tax reform utilized including President Reagan’s 1986 tax overhaul—widely lauded as one of the most successful tax reform efforts of all-time.

Reagan’s 1986 tax reform was “revenue neutral” but hailed by politicians of all stripes for simplifying the tax code, broadening the base and reducing the rates—a win win for everyone, not just those who want more tax dollars.

Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Government Waste Negates Justification for Transportation Tax Hike

LA-Freeway-Xchange-110-105A personal digression: My father was head of the Iowa Department of Transportation (then called the Iowa Highway Commission) in the late ’60s and early ’70s before he was appointed by President Ford to serve as Deputy Federal Highway Administrator. (Of course, he lost that job when Jimmy Carter became president, but he continued to work in the private sector for a transportation think tank.) When I was in high school, I remember him coming home from an ASHTO conference. That organization, the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, was a pretty well respected group and still is. He was complaining bitterly about what was going on in California. I don’t recall his exact words, but the gist of it was that the new head of California’s transportation agency, called CalTrans, had been taken over by a certifiably crazy person (with no background in transportation policy) by the name of Adriana Gianturco. According to my father, in the 1950s and ’60s, California had the best transportation agency in the entire world. But all that changed with the election of a new, anti-growth, small-is-beautiful governor by the name of Jerry Brown.

Now, fast forward 40 years. Gov. Brown, version 2.0, proposes a budget that assumes a big increase in transportation taxes and fees. The California Legislature shouldn’t just say no, it should say hell no.

Where to start? First, let’s take judicial notice of the fact that California is already a high tax state with the highest income tax rate and the highest state sales tax in America. But more relevant for the issue at hand, we also have the highest fuel costs in the nation. This is because of both the 4th highest excise tax on fuel and the fact that refineries are burdened with additional costs to comply with California’s environmental regulations.

The high cost to drive in California might be understandable if we were getting value for our tax dollars. But we aren’t. A big problem is that Caltrans is dysfunctional, plain and simple. It has never fully recovered from the days when the agency was effectively destroyed by Gianturco. A report by the California State Auditor just a couple of months ago concluded that a primary responsibility of Caltrans – maintenance of our highways – is not being executed in a manner that is even close to being efficient or competent. Senator John Moorlach, the only CPA currently serving in the California legislature, reacted saying that “This audit reinforces the fact that our bad roads are not a result of a lack of funding. They’re a result of a lack of competence at Caltrans.” Moreover, a report by the Legislative Analyst concluded that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 employees costing California taxpayers over a half billion dollars a year. All this compels the obvious question: Why, for goodness sake, do we want to give these people even more money?

Another unneeded and costly practice consists of project labor agreements for transportation construction projects. These pro-union policies shut out otherwise competent companies from bidding on projects resulting in California taxpayers shelling out as high as 25% more than they should for building highways and bridges.

Finally, California’s environmental requirements are legendary for their inefficiency while also doing little for the environment. Exhibit A in this foolishness is Gov. Brown’s incomprehensible pursuit of the ill-fated high speed rail project. Not only has the project failed to live up to any of the promises made to voters, it is currently being kept alive only by virtue of the state’s diversion of “cap and trade” funds which are supposed to be expended on projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in the Kafkaesque world of California transportation policies, the LAO has concluded that the construction of the HSR project actually produces a net increase in emissions, at least for the foreseeable future.

No one disputes the dire need for improvements in California’s transportation infrastructure. But imposing draconian taxes and higher registration fees that serve only to punish the middle class while wasting billions on projects that don’t help getting Californians get to work or school cannot and should not be tolerated. Legislators who present themselves to voters as fiscally responsible need to understand that a vote for higher transportation taxes will engender a very angry response from their constituents.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piecd was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

What CA Taxpayers Need to Know About Gov. Brown’s New Budget

BudgetAverage taxpayers in California are probably aware that the state budget was in the news again over the weekend. But even folks who follow both presidential politics and local issues probably couldn’t be blamed if they tune out stories about the California budget. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s just that public finance issues can be horribly confusing and difficult to follow.

In terms of timing, the process itself is easy to grasp. The annual budget year runs from July 1st to June 30th of the following year. That’s why people refer to a single budget using two years. For example, the budget currently being discussed is the 2016-2017 budget. The Constitution requires that the governor present a budget in January and that the Legislature enact the budget by June 15th. Because state bean counters and analysts don’t have a full grasp of the economy or revenue projections in January, the governor’s budget goes through an update, or “revision,” in May. It was this May “revise” that the governor presented on Friday that has been in the latest news cycle.

But perhaps the most confusing aspect of the state budget is the fact that many of the numbers that are bandied about are inconsistent. Thus, an average citizen might hear on the radio that the state budget is $122 billion dollars. And yet, when they get home, they read that spending is actually $173 billion. At this point they are more apt to turn on the Giants v. Dodgers game rather than make sense of the huge disparity.

The inconsistency in these budget numbers usually is attributable to the fact that there is a big difference between “general fund” spending and total state spending which includes “special funds.” General fund revenue comes from the state income tax, sales tax, corporate tax and a handful of other sources. “Special funds” come from the gas tax and fees from regulatory programs like cap and trade funds. For average taxpayers, the worst example of “special fund” revenue consists of the illegal CalFire “fee” which slams property owners with hundreds of dollars of additional property taxes. The legality of the CalFire fee is currently being challenged in court.

When it comes to the state budget, citizen taxpayers are justified in being both confused and angry. Not a day goes by without some scandal surfacing about those who spend our tax dollars. Whether it is the Bay Bridge, which exceeded the original cost estimate by a factor of six, or California’s feckless policies that have driven up state debt so high that, were the state a private company, it would be immediately eligible for bankruptcy.

As should be expected, California has the largest state budget in the United States. But what should not be expected or tolerated is the hostility of our political leaders toward those of us who pay the bills. California has the highest income tax rate in America as well as the highest state sales tax. Our fuel costs are also the highest due to both the current gas tax and environment regulations. The result of these policies has been an accelerated exodus from the state by both businesses and individuals. It should be painfully obvious even to the Governor and left-leaning legislators that you can’t have a vibrant state budget unless you have a vibrant economy.

Finally, Gov. Brown, while not officially endorsing a proposal to retain California’s sky-high income tax rates, implicitly endorsed it by noting that the state would be in a deficit situation if the measure didn’t pass in California. But this deficit projection is only attributable to higher state costs due to the foolish policies of elected leaders, not state revenues which are actually increasing faster than population and inflation.

The real cure for California’s budget woes is a combination of policies that would make California competitive in the global economy, not higher taxes and more burdensome regulations.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

What Taxpayers Want from Santa

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

Photo courtesy Franco Folini, flickr

A time-tested Christmas joke describes the four stages of life: First, you believe in Santa Clause. Second, you don’t believe in Santa Clause. Third, you are Santa Claus. Fourth, you look like Santa Claus.

As they look down from their lofty perches in the State Capitol, members of the political ruling class see taxpayers as perpetually being in the third stage, supplying a never ending supply of goodies (i.e., tax revenue) to be collected by lawmakers and bureaucrats, and kept, or redistributed, as they see fit.

When taxpayers look back at the politicians, they see them in the juvenile first stage, naively believing in Santa Taxpayer who can effortlessly fulfill their every desire and whim.

Of course, taxpayers can best be described as being in the cynical second stage. They don’t believe in Santa Claus, they work hard, they understand there is no free lunch and they are wary of politicians who try to buy voter support with the money they have extracted from our wallets and pocketbooks.

However, if Santa Claus does exist, here is a list of requests that taxpayers might send to the North Pole:

  • A $39.95 toy train to go under the tree. This will be less expensive, and just as useful, as the $100 billion bullet train the governor and the Legislature want taxpayers to put in their stocking.  Based on the current estimate of costs, the dream train for “good” politicians will cost a family of four over $10,000.
  • Gas tax relief. Counting carbon penalties, Californians pay the highest gas taxes in the nation. Most working Californians, who need their cars for work, cannot afford to drive Teslas. While less expensive alternative fuel vehicles are developed, average folks on modest incomes don’t need to be faced with having to make a choice between being able to fill the gas tank or the grocery cart.
  • Time to catch our breath. In an already high tax state, where the government is running a hefty surplus, taxpayers would like to see a moratorium on tax increase proposals and on efforts to undermine Proposition 13 protections.
  • Reversal of both state and federal policies that have led to the 30 hour work week, instead of the 40 hour week, being considered the standard for full employment.
  • For those taxpayers who have reached the fourth stage of looking like Santa Clause, they wish for a normal life in retirement so they don’t to have to work late in life. That’s a big ask in California because high taxes, which allow government workers to retire comfortably, make life difficult for other seniors who aren’t so lucky.

Asking for more, such as having the politicians stop treating taxpayers like second-class citizens, might seem greedy. So Santa, if you could just deliver any of our wishes above, we would be very grateful.

P.S. There is nothing wrong with looking like Santa Claus.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Still Thankful for Liberty in 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis  Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.