Is it possible that Jerry Brown, a life-long Democrat, is now the voice of reason in Sacramento?
There was a time when Democrats were proud to declare themselves the defenders of working people, the middle class or those who aspired to become middle class. As recently as the 1990s, there were Democrats in the legislature who upheld this tradition. Sadly, over time, these defenders of average citizens have been largely replaced by those who are more selective about which interests they care about.
The priorities of this new breed of Democrat has shifted to issues like what kind of light bulbs are you using in your home or how many calories are you consuming. To these “nanny staters,” creating the California Blueberry Commission is their idea of helping the economy in a state where several million residents remain unemployed.
These representatives believe that their narrow agenda is so important that anybody who has a job, a business or who has been marginally successful, should foot the bill with higher taxes. When Proposition 30, the $50 billion tax increase, was passed in November, they were jubilant — not just because they would now have more money to spend, but because many believed this represented a new era in California where the public was ready to embrace new taxes. And it didn’t hurt their morale that their party elected super-majorities to both houses of the legislature.
Already State Sens. Mark Leno and Lois Wolk have introduced legislation to make it easier to increase property taxes on homeowners. Known as “parcel taxes,” homeowners are compelled to pay a set amount for the privilege of living within a community imposing the tax. A young couple in a starter home, an elderly couple in a bungalow and a multi-millionaire in a mansion all pay the same amount. While parcel taxes are legal, they require a two-thirds vote under Proposition 13. If Leno and Wolk get their way, these taxes will be imposed with a lower vote threshold even though a majority of these taxes pass under the current system.
Needless to say, lowering the vote threshold for approval would provide a tremendous advantage to tax backers because those with no obligation to pay are already likely to vote yes. And who are the homeowners hardest hit by these taxes? Why it’s those working folks who Democrats used to defend. These bills appear to be only the tip of the iceberg of coming legislation that would undermine the taxpayer protections contained in Proposition 13.
With Democrats in the legislature salivating over opportunities to increase revenue, the role of the once and future governor, whose popularity is at a new high, becomes magnified.
Taxpayers have been justifiably critical of Jerry Brown, especially his willingness to commit to spending $100 billion, or more, on the bullet train, while other pressing budget priorities go unfunded. However, because of Brown’s willingness to put his reputation on the line and fully commit his considerable political skills to pass Proposition 30, he is almost singularly responsible for its election success. Unlike his colleagues in the Legislature, the governor has responded to this achievement with a moderate tone. He has said that the state budget should now stay balanced for years to come, and has pledged that any surplus revenue will be used to pay down the “wall of debt” — the principal reason California has the lowest credit rating of all 50 states.
Additionally, Brown has cautioned against “over-reading” voters’ intentions and declared he will oppose any additional taxes not approved by a public vote.
Over the years, our renaissance governor has been described as eccentric (and worse) because of his philosophical and spiritual musings that often seem extraneous. However, Democratic leaders in the legislature would be wise to take to heart Brown’s recent comment to reporters: “When I was doing Zen meditation in Japan back in the late ‘80s, before going to bed I’d say with mediators, ‘Desires are endless, I vow to cut them down.’”
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.