The 2011 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Legislative Report Card is out and, from the perspective of citizen taxpayers and homeowners, the grades of the majority of legislators are so poor that, if they were school children, they’d be grounded.
The 2011 legislative year was not without its victories. The largest tax increase in U.S. history, approved in 2009, was not extended, saving California families about $1,200 a year. Also, billions of dollars in energy ratepayer charges were not renewed.
But the California Legislature remains a hostile institution for taxpayers. New taxes, masquerading as fees, were pushed on everything from homeowners to carpet. And our elected representatives still are unable to bring government spending under control. After just four months into the new fiscal year, the budget already reflects an $8 to $10 billion deficit.
Taxpayers demand legislators be held accountable on the issues they care about: reasonable taxes, protection of Proposition 13’s two-thirds vote and limits on property taxes, and their ability to use the initiative process. That is the purpose of the HJTA Report Card.
Because HJTA is a non-partisan organization — over 30 percent of members are registered Democrats — we ignore party affiliation entirely when handing out grades. With 2 million unemployed Californians and one of the nation’s heaviest tax burdens, favoritism or other gimmickry is the last thing voters need. Only the politicians’ votes matter, not their party affiliation, their campaign promises or their excuses.
For this evaluation to be as fair and non-partisan as possible, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that the scorecard is balanced. Although we are not fans of grade inflation, we did adjust our grade levels downward to ensure a legislator gets a “C” grade if they agree with taxpayers’ positions at least half the time. (We are fully cognizant of the fact that, by giving a legislator a passing grade with 50 percent correct votes, we risk being called too soft — an adjective not normally associated with HJTA.)
Despite our leniency, 76 legislators still received grades of “D” or “F.” As has been our practice, we have given half-credit for all vote abstentions on bills. We recognize that legislators are constantly buffeted by special interests and their own leadership, and we want to ensure that those who don’t vote for bills that increase the burden on taxpayers are rewarded accordingly.
The 2011 scores are based on 22 bills. This year we double-weighted two bills: ABx40 and Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 as they represented a tax increase and a threat to the initiative process, respectively. Also, for the first time, we have failed to give a score to a legislator. Since March, State Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Ventura) has been serving our country faithfully overseas in Afghanistan and was unable to vote on many legislative bills.
While scores declined for legislators overall, there were some bright spots. For the second year in a row, State Sen. Lou Correa scored the highest among Legislative Democrats with a “C” grade. For Republicans, 26 received “A” grades this year compared to just 18 from a year ago. Five Republicans also received perfect scores. All of these came from the Assembly, and HJTA is pleased to report that four were freshman legislators participating in their first report card. (The five are Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, Assemblywoman Linda Halderman and Assemblyman Mike Morrell).
2012 is an election year that will see a lot of changes in the political process. Last year, voters passed reforms establishing an open primary election system and new legislative and congressional districts. With new rules and district boundaries, it may be even more difficult for taxpayers to sort out who best represents their interests. The HJTA report card is designed to help Californians gauge how their state representatives are performing on taxpayer-related issues so they can make good decisions on who they will support.
To see the grade your representatives earned, visit www.hjta.org/legislative/report-cards/
Santa Monica representatives Julia Brownley and Fran Pavley both earned an F on the report card.
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.