Governor Brown and the Democrats in the Legislature have “called out” the Republicans, demanding that they support Brown’s plan to put massive increases in the state’s income, sales and car taxes on the ballot as a way to balance the budget. The Governor’s challenge to “let the voters decide” was so shrill he even suggested that the Republicans, by “denying” voters of the ability to vote in June, were no better than the Mubarak regime as if, somehow, protesters demanding government change in the streets of Cairo are really rioting for higher taxes.
Despite Brown’s histrionics, Republicans have, up to now, declined the invitation. They should continue to do so. But the Republicans can also take this opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of the majority party and, in so doing, they can help burnish their arguments for a better economic climate in California that will help balance the budget and create real jobs.
After Brown’s challenge, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association issued its own challenge — a modest proposal, really, for the Governor and the majority party in the California Legislature. Our challenge is based on our trust of California voters to see through all the hyperbole and make reasonable choices when it comes to taxes. After all, voters agreed with us in passing Proposition 13 in 1978 and, more recently, by rejecting the last eight statewide tax increases, including the very same taxes Brown is now claiming we need.
We suggested that the Republicans agree to put the tax increases that Brown wants on the ballot in June if, and only if, voters are given the opportunity to vote for tax reductions in an equal amount. Want voters to consider doubling the car tax, adding a penny to the sales tax and adding a .25 percent income tax surcharge? Go ahead. But only if the Legislature is also willing to give voters the option of approving a 50 percent reduction in the car tax, a one cent reduction in the sales tax and a .25 percent cut in the income tax.
The reaction to our challenge was predictable. Speaker Perez called it “laughable.” Brown said it wasn’t serious. What Brown and company ignore about the Jarvis challenge is that, even if the tax reductions we propose were approved by the voters, California would still be one of the most heavily taxed states in America. So how is this unreasonable or unrealistic?
As businesses continue to leave California at a record clip, we need to act now to reform California’s hostile tax and regulatory climate. The Republicans have, in prior years, brought forth innumerable reform ideas in education, corrections, government efficiency and welfare. These reforms — which are critical if California is to regain its competitiveness — are shot down by the Democrats as soon as they are proposed.
Instead of giving voters a single choice – tax increases – what is wrong with giving them another option? The problem for Brown, of course, is that by giving voters the opportunity to actually reduce their taxes, they might actually take it. As noted, voters rejected these same tax increases less than two years ago because they didn’t trust the political establishment in Sacramento that warned of dire cuts to essential services. By failing to adopt even the most modest reforms, the majority in Sacramento has done nothing to repair its negative image.
Moreover, there is no small degree of hypocrisy in Governor Brown casting himself as the defender of democracy. After all, isn’t this the same Jerry Brown who, as Attorney General, refused to enforce Proposition 8 which was approved by over 6.8 million Californians at the ballot box? However one feels about the issue of traditional marriage, Brown’s refusal to “let the voters decide” on that issue is grossly inconsistent with his current calls for voter input.
The same holds true with the Democrats in the Legislature. Last year, Senator Tony Strickland introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 29, which would have given California voters the opportunity to vote on implementing key provisions of Obamacare. Not surprisingly, the Democrats refused to take that issue to the voters fearing overwhelming support for the opt out.
Now, of course, the Governor and his high spending allies are saying we must trust the voters. While we appreciate their new found religion, we suggest that they give the voters real choices.
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.