Like the villain in a cheesy hostage movie, Gov. Jerry Brown took to the stage last week to deliver his annual budget. His ransom demand to Californians was simple: Vote for more in taxes or I’ll cut $5 billion from education. Upon hearing the threat, citizens across the state yawned and then went about their business knowing that the gun pointed at their wallet wasn’t even loaded.
Brown’s proposed tax hike wasn’t really a surprise as just a few weeks ago he laid out the plan to increase income and sales taxes on Californians by $35 billion over five years. If this sounds familiar, it should. These are the very same taxes voters rejected less than three years ago by a 2-1 margin. Indeed, voters have rejected the last seven tax hikes dating back to 2006. But ignoring the admonition that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, the governor not only assumes that voters will approve taxes, but he is so confident of this that he built the revenue into his budget. Brown envisions a 7 percent hike in spending for 2012-13, the largest annual increase in six years.
Brown might want to rethink his role as a Tony Soprano wannabe. Quite frankly, the part doesn’t fit a former Jesuit. But more importantly, California shows nascent signs of economic recovery on its own (despite our policy leaders doing all in their power to strangle the state’s economy in its crib). Revenues have increased more than 3 percent and the unemployment rate has declined to 11.3 percent, the lowest level in nearly three years.
So why choke off this fledgling economic recovery with taxes? Simply, California politicians lack the intestinal fortitude to live within their means. Sure, the governor talks a good game. He even referenced paying down the “wall of debt” again in his speech last week. But he followed that up with asking for a $12 billion water bond, continued support for California’s High Speed Fail, er Rail, program and a cap-and-trade scheme that will drive Californians’ energy costs through the roof.
Whether the recovery is weak, robust or nonexistent, it is very unlikely voters will be persuaded to pay the ransom. Not because they don’t want good education, but because they’ve heard all these threats countless times before. What they know — whether they can cite the specifics or not — is that vast sums of their taxpayer dollars are being wasted.
In any campaign for higher taxes — either the governor’s plan, those from dilettante billionaires or from the almighty public employee labor bosses — voters will be reminded by taxpayer groups like HJTA that they are not undertaxed — but that our government leaders simply are not good stewards of their tax dollars. Like seven times before, tax hikes on the ballot will meet the fate they so richly deserve.
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.