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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website]

Torturing Taxpayers with the Three Rs
Progressive political agenda pummels the public
[Jon Coupal]

There's an old joke about the window washer who slipped off his scaffold at the 80th floor. As he passed the 30th floor, he thought to himself, "so far, so good." Indeed, when you stop to think about it, very few people get hurt falling. They get hurt landing.

Well, this is the last week of the California legislative session. For hardworking California families and businesses, this week promises to be a brutal landing. A perfect storm of hardcore partisan politics, an ultra-left-leaning legislative majority and a governor pandering for every possible vote has virtually guaranteed that Californians will be taxed more, regulated more, and be subject to a further erosion of our civilized and moral society.

How did we get here? Let's just call it the harmonic convergence of the Three Rs: Reapportionment, Recall and Revenge.

REAPPORTIONMENT: There is nothing more boring (and confusing) to the average voter than reapportionment, also known as redistricting. That's too bad because very few things can have as profound an impact on our California Legislature. Leaving politicians to draw their own political boundary lines is like giving the inmates at San Quentin the keys to their cells and telling them to behave themselves. The last decent boundary map -- written by judges -- was far superior in that the districts did not end up looking like pieces of modern art. But the current maps are a case study in political self-preservation. Democratic districts became more Democratic and Republican districts became more Republican, all in the name of incumbent protection.

Incumbent protection reapportionment has a negative impact on policy in a legislature controlled by left-of-center politicians. First, it attracts and retains more liberal legislators. Gone are the days when there were more than a handful of moderate Democrats. Second, it emboldens current legislators to be more partisan. The restraining influence of having to face a closely divided constituency is gone. Of course, all this is true on the other side of the aisle for Republicans as well. But the problem is that Republicans are out of power and cannot stop the onslaught of bad bills, let alone advance their own agenda.

RECALL: It seems like ancient history now, but there was a time when Gray Davis could actually be counted on to veto most of the really bad stuff. After all, in his original iteration as governor, he was a self-described centrist. Not any more. His political career being everything to Davis, he will do anything -- anything -- to stay in power. Right now, he has calculated that he needs the liberal base of the Democrat party to have any chance at all of beating the recall. This makes for interesting politics, but it is resulting in horrible policy.

While Davis has always been at odds with grass-roots conservatives, he has at times defended California businesses against the more liberal proclivities of his legislative brethren. Now, however, any semblance of détente has been ripped away. The business community is openly hostile to Davis for screwing up energy, workers comp and being a lap dog to the trial lawyers. For Davis, the final insult occurred this past weekend when the California Chamber of Commerce, in an unprecedented move, endorsed a gubernatorial candidate that wasn't Davis. (It was the one who Davis thinks has a funny accent).

So, with Gray retreating to his liberal base, what is going to happen in the Legislature this week? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the liberals in the Legislature smell a huge opportunity. Every conceivable liberal agenda item is now moving. Many controversial bills which had previously been put in the "suspense" file have been withdrawn for a renewed push. These bills are moving forward -- with Democrats often attempting to shut off debate, public comments or hearings. One Legislator told me that the Republicans had to raise a loud exception just to see some final language of a bill before it passed out of the house.

Moreover, it is not just opportunity that is motivating the ultra-liberals in the Legislature. If polling continues to hold, there could be a Republican in the Governor's office in less than a month. Fear, as much as anything, is compelling John Burton, Herb Wesson and company in their relentless drive for a more collectivist California.

REVENGE: The atmosphere in the Capitol is, according to all accounts, as poisonous as it has ever been. It's not just the recall, although that is a big part of it. Republicans feel that they have been shut out of the political process entirely and are not even afforded the courtesies normally given to the minority party. Democrats, on the other hand, chafe under the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and passage of the budget.

As noted above, reapportionment has made Republicans even more conservative and, in the last two years, the minority party has stopped the tax increases Democrats so desperately want. This year, the Democrats adopted a strategy built on portraying the Republicans as obstructionists.

That strategy was having at least some measure of success in the media until the "open microphone" incident. A group of Democrats was meeting privately to discuss budget strategy and openly speculated how a delay in the budget could benefit them as well as the prospects for an initiative which would rob the Republicans of even more power in the budget debates. Little did they know that the discussion was being broadcast on the Capitol's intercom system. Never had so much been revealed since Toto pulled open the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. The Republicans immediately capitalized, calling a press conference and making a compelling case that at least some Democrats were the ones being obstructionists.

The result of this major embarrassment for the Democrats was that the final budget, for all its gimmicks, had no tax increases. The Democrats had been effectively "faced" by the Republicans and now the Democrats are exacting their pound of flesh by shutting Republicans out of the legislative process.

This week will be bad. Democrats will "gut and amend" more bills, wholly changing the subject of legislation in gross violation of long-standing rules of procedure. They will attempt to hold committee "hearings" in the hallways or in private offices away from the public eye. They will move bills late at night with obscure language which may appear innocuous but is actually designed to have major impacts on public policy.

Californians, brace yourselves. It's going to be a rough landing.


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