With either an infusion of new tax revenue or major cuts facing California, a theme is emerging as the November election nears. Said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, at a hearing Monday, ”We are not running the state incompetently. We don’t have enough revenue.”
In a rare televised hearing from the state Capitol, the Legislature held a mandatory oversight hearing Monday on three of the ballot initiatives California voters will be deciding November 6.
A fourth initiative hearing was held Tuesday.
Voter access to hearings
Actually, most legislative hearings are televised on the California Channel, the Capitol cable television program. But in August, the recording a Senate hearing four November ballot initiatives was deliberately and abruptly interrupted by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
“I pride myself on transparency,” Steinberg said following the faux pas, referring to his weekly press briefings with local media. But it appeared to be nothing more than a disingenuous justification of his decision to cut off the legislative hearing access.
Immediately after the hearing access was cutoff, Steinberg’s media spokesman unconvincingly said they were attempting to prevent the hearing footage from being used in campaign commercials.
The California Legislature’s overused word-of-the-year is “transparency.” They love it. They use it every chance they get. It’s just too bad that they don’t actually practice it. In fact, those who use “tranaparency” the most, understand it the least, and seem to practice it the least.
Dems rule, Reps duel
The information provided at the hearings should easily help voters decide which way to vote on the ballot initiatives. ”The goal is to dig deeper, talk about the real substance behind the propositions,” Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Los Angleles, said at the hearing covering Proposition 30, 31 and 38.
In the left corner of the Proposition 30 prizefight was proponent Trudy Schafer with the League of Women Voters of California. In the right corner for the opposition was David Wolfe with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.
Proposition 30 is Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase measure, which would raise the state sales tax by one-quarter cent, and raise income taxes on incomes of $250,000 and higher. Estimates vary on how much Prop. 30 is expected to raise, but $6 billion to $8.5 billion is the range.
While the proposition is being advertised as a school-funding measure, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said it would mostly repay money already owed to schools through years of legislative deferrals to education funding.
“It’s time to take a stand,” Schafer said. “The California dream was built on public school access for every Californian. We need to get back to investing in schools and colleges.”
By definition, public schools are accessible to every school-age California resident.
Sounding more like a shill for the teachers unions, Schafer lamented that California has “one-third less adults working in schools than other states.” She said that if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass, schools face $6 billion in trigger cuts, which will force schools to shorten the school year, stop buying text books, and fire teachers.
“Proposition 30 is a temporary tax, and a modest increase,” Schafer said. “It’s all new money in dedicated accounts so the Legislature can’t touch it.” (Now that’s a rousing endorsement of the integrity of the California Legislature.)
Wolfe had an entirely different stance on the tax increase proposition: “Proposition 30 is not a temporary tax … seven years is not temporary.” Wolfe explained that there is no plan to replace the revenue when the tax expires.
“Prop. 30 will not fix the progressive tax system, where 37 percent of all tax revenues are paid by the top 1 percent income earners. Volatility is a problem,” Wolfe said.
“Prop. 30 will not provide new money for educational programs, and it is not a millionaire tax,” taxing income of $250,000 and up, according to Wolfe. “Small business income is filed as personal tax; this hurts small business.”
“Anybody who makes $250,000 becomes a millionaire very quickly if you save it. You just need four years,” Brown said recently, while trying to justify calling Prop. 30, the Millionaire Tax measure. “It is a millionaires tax. It taxes millionaires, right?”
Despite what facts legislative analyst provided, Blumenfield played down the impact of the tax measure: “It’s a huge impact on schools, and would mean that schools borrow less.”
“You’ve got to give the governor credit for stepping up and pushing a transparent process,” said Swanson.
Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Irvine, asked the legislative analyst exactly how much of the tax-in crease revenue would goes to schools. The Legislative Analyst explained that $2.9 billion will go to education and $5 billion to the General Fund.
The LAO reported that revenues could change significantly from year to year. “The revenues raised by this measure could be subject to multibillion-dollar swings — either above or below the revenues projected here,” the LAO analysis states in the California General Election voter guide.
“If this doesn’t pass, hopefully we get our act together and budget with what we have,” said Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert.”Cumulatively, the cuts are an illusion. We make them, then we backfill them.”
Nestande said that state spending goes up every year, a fact he noted is backed up by the LAO. And he pointed out that the $6 to $8 billion in revenue Prop. 30 may bring in is a drop in the bucket given California’s massive indebtedness. “This small tax increase is nothing,” Nestande said. “We have to look at a total re-do. We keep going back to constituents, many who live paycheck to paycheck, and asking them to pay more when it doesn’t do much. We say we are a full time Legislature, dealing with the budget problem. We are not.”
(Katy Grimes is a longtime political analyst, writer and journalist, and CalWatchdog’s news reporter. Originally posted on CalWatchdog.)