At the end of September, Assembly Bill 8 was signed by Gov. Brown and became law. This is horrible news for taxpayers because California motorists will now be paying $2.3 billion in additional taxes and charges. Adding insult to injury, taxpayers will find their hard-earned dollars being used to subsidize programs such as the purchase of all electric cars, like the Tesla that, even with the taxpayer provided discount, can be afforded only by a handful of wealthy individuals. Money will also be lavished on the hydrogen network designed to service vehicles of which, about 250 currently exist.
The bill for ordinary California drivers may not be immediately noticeable because these “surcharges” are buried in vehicle registration and charges for the disposal of tires and other auto services. But they are there nonetheless and, like a death by a thousand cuts, working class Californians are paying for questionable programs that citizens in other states simply don’t have to suffer.
With all the burdens Sacramento imposes on taxpayers — we already have the highest state sales tax in all 50 states, the highest marginal income tax rate and the highest gas tax — these additional taxes may not get much attention from the general public, at least not at first.
But the real problem for taxpayers with the approval of this kind of legislation runs much deeper than its immediate cost because it was passed in the Legislature using the technique of bribing unconvinced lawmakers to vote yes by offering the prospect of reduced regulation on businesses important to those lawmakers’ districts. Nine Republicans, who usually put taxpayers’ interests first, were persuaded to support AB 8 by the lure of reduced regulations.
While the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association believes that business is shouldering an unreasonable burden of regulations, especially compared to other states, these regulations should be judged individually on their merits. The offer of reform should not be used by the majority party to solicit payoffs — higher taxes — in return for doing the right thing.
However, against type, it is Republicans in the Capitol who provided the votes to guarantee this bad legislation became law. And it is not the first time. Sadly, we are sensing a trend. Last year, the Legislature placed a new 1 percent tax on the sale of lumber, with four Republicans providing the votes to put the measure over the top. Here, the bribe was that some restrictions on the timber industry would be lifted.
At this point, it is important to note the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is non-partisan. More than a third of members are Democrats and in the past taxpayers have had the support of some Democratic lawmakers who recognized that taxpayers are the backbone of a prosperous economy. However, the majority party in the Legislature is now dominated by those who want to raise more revenue and seem willing to use any stratagem, no matter how sleazy, to get it.
To be fair, a majority of Republican legislators continue to stand firm. Only a few have drunk the “higher taxes in return for regulatory reform” Kool-Aid. But the question must be asked of all lawmakers: “Who do you serve?” Unfortunately some Republicans, on whom taxpayers rely to defend their interests, are apparently feeling diminished by their minority status and are so desperate for the attention that, over time, they are forgetting who they serve.
But trading permanent tax hikes for what may prove very temporary regulatory relief is a deal with the devil. For a handful of Republicans, their vote for Assembly Bill 8 may have reflected the best of intentions. But good intentions only make for a suitable paving surface to a certain location better left unmentioned.
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.