From the moment California voters passed Proposition 13 more than three decades ago, it has been subject to attack. Scarcely before all the ballots were counted (which, by the way, ran two to one in favor of 13) a lawsuit was filed in the California Supreme Court seeking its invalidation. That lawsuit lost, of course, but the attacks continue to this day unabated.
The chief architect of Prop. 13, Howard Jarvis, knew early on that, as in battle, you can’t give up ground for which you have so valiantly fought. He therefore founded an organization that, today, carrying his name, exists for the primary purpose of defending Proposition 13 against these relentless assaults.
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has, for 33 years, won far more battles in the defense of Proposition 13 than we have lost. But it has not been easy. The attacks are not only mounted by very powerful tax-and-spend interests, they have also been advanced in several different arenas. As modern wars are now fought on three fronts — on the land, sea and air — so too are the battles to defend Prop. 13: At the ballot box, in the Legislature and in the courts.
Fighting these challenges has resembled the arcade game of “Whack-a-Mole” which features plastic “moles” that pop up from their holes at random. The object of the game is to force the individual moles back into their holes by hitting them directly on the head with a mallet. But the very phrase “whack-a-mole” has gained the colloquial usage of a repetitious and never-ending task: each time a challenge is “whacked,” it only pops up again from another direction.
Whack-a-Mole pretty much describes the attacks on Prop. 13. They always pop up and must be struck down firmly with force — over and over again. So, what are the current assaults on Prop. 13? Let’s count them.
First, in the Legislature, schemes to lower the two-thirds vote for tax increases are perennial favorites and proposals to by-pass the same requirement by calling taxes “fees” or “charges” are legion.
Second, in the courts, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has, at any given time, more than a dozen pending cases dealing, not only with direct assaults on Prop. 13, but also other fiscal and property issues which must be litigated to protect the interests of California taxpayers.
Third, at the ballot box, HJTA must play both offense and defense. Propositions 62 (1986) and 218 (1996) were HJTA sponsored initiatives to plug loopholes in Prop. 13 created by the courts and the Legislature. On defense, constant vigilance is required against direct assaults on property owners and taxpayers by leftist backed initiatives to repeal or weaken Prop 13.
What makes fighting these challenges worth the effort is the knowledge that the vast majority of Californians agree with us. Last week, the Field Poll reported that support for Proposition 13 has hit a new recent high of 63 percent. (It had been as low as 50 percent several years ago). Those who would vote against Prop. 13 today account for only 29 percent of voters.
While support for Proposition 13 is, happily, again on the ascendancy, taxpayers must take nothing for granted. The detractors to Prop. 13 will never rest and all the challenges will, if anything, accelerate, not subside.
But, for now, taxpayers can take some small degree of satisfaction that the majority of California voters are on their side and don’t want any changes or weakening of Prop. 13.
As for the moles, they will surely keep popping up. That’s OK. Because we have a mallet and we know how to use it.
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.