As our planet completes another trip around the sun, we at the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association join in the tradition of taking stock of what has been accomplished during the year just ending and assess what challenges we face in the coming year.
For a statewide taxpayer organization it is important to remember that what successes we achieved are made possible by our members as well as other individuals and allied organizations. So while I am about to highlight a number of successful activities by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA), we thank and appreciate all who helped.
A major accomplishment by taxpayers during 2011 was driving a stake through an extension of the temporary tax increases — increases that were costing the typical California family nearly $1,200 annually — that were approved by the Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2009. The higher taxes were accompanied by promises that, in return for even more taxpayer money in our already high-tax state, our political leaders would balance the budget and reform spending.
As the higher income tax, sales tax and car tax, were set to expire, Gov. Brown and his free-spending allies in the Legislature were urging a five year extension. Brown wanted it put to a public vote, while government employee unions pushed lawmakers to go ahead and impose new taxes without input from voters. Those grasping for more taxpayer dollars failed to recognize, or chose to ignore, that the reason government revenues are down is that taxpayers’ incomes and quality of life have declined.
HJTA waged a statewide radio campaign to alert taxpayers to the threat. Taxpayer representatives appeared on talk shows throughout the state and made extensive use of the Internet to push out information. Thanks to public pressure, enough fiscally responsible lawmakers were persuaded to hold the line and the temporary taxes expired.
In the courts, HJTA lawsuits forced several local jurisdictions to release information regarding government employee pensions. With some public employees retiring as young as 50 with 90 percent of their pay, taxpayers have a right to know what this is costing them.
The HJTA legal team has also been fighting the new state fire tax that was approved by the Legislature without the constitutionally required two-thirds vote. The state is trying to extract an additional $150 from rural homeowners, most of whom already pay extra to local fire districts for protection. After HJTA challenged the method of implementation by CalFire, the tax plan was withdrawn for further consideration. In the event that property owners end up being charged, HJTA is ready to go to court.
In the Legislature, HJTA successfully lobbied against a number of bills that would have made it more difficult for average citizens to use the initiative process to place measures, like Proposition 13, on the ballot. While most of these bills were defeated, two that would have damaged citizens’ right to petition government slipped through to the governor’s desk. While Gov. Brown did veto one of those bills as requested by HJTA, he did acquiesce to powerful labor groups and signed another bill that forces all future initiatives onto the November general election instead of allowing qualified measures to be voted on during any statewide election — including June primaries. Unfortunately, this legislation will cause both confusion and “ballot fatigue” for voters who will now have to wade through far more measures in a single November election than if the current practice were retained.
On the political front, HJTA has provided assistance to one local and one statewide initiative proposal that will be on the ballot next year. In San Diego, HJTA helped local taxpayers who qualified a government employee pension reform proposal. The goal is to treat both public workers and taxpayers fairly, and save a city that is perilously close to bankruptcy. In the state arena, an HJTA sponsored committee has helped to qualify “Stop Special Interest Money Now.” The initiative would bar corporations and unions from directly contributing to candidates’ campaign accounts and prohibit the government from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks without their permission.
Additionally, HJTA helped draft, and is the co-sponsor of, a spending limit proposal that has already been filed and will be circulated for signatures next year. The measure would restore the Gann Spending Limit — its original author, Paul Gann, was a co-sponsor of Prop. 13 — to put a reasonable and realistic cap on annual state and local government spending increases.
So while HJTA has been very busy during 2011, the real work for taxpayers is just beginning. As we begin our next orbit of the sun, it is important to be wary and remember that the powerful Sacramento political class remains something akin to a “flat earth society,” where egos are so immense that they believe that the sun revolves around them.
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.