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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]

Now That the Dust Has Settled
Taxpayers Must Be Vigilant
[Jon Coupal]

Critics of the recall process are carping that it had all the decorum and significance of a bar fight, but their fear and hatred of anything that smacks of popular action blinds them to the magnificence of what has just occurred.

The recall has been a shot across the bow of a runaway ship of state.

In the big picture, the result of the recall/replacement election is much less important than the execution of the process. Politicians of all stripes have been issued a stern warning from a newly invigorated electorate that the people's business must come first. Hiram Johnson, the father of California's recall process, would be proud to see how his descendants have judiciously used this powerful tool.

However, this is no time for the public to assume that our elected officials will behave without our vigilance. Above all, those of us who are concerned about tax issues must not lose track of protecting Proposition 13 -- the keystone of taxpayers' rights in California. Ultimately, this, too, is up to the people.

The recall has had an interesting effect that has been overlooked by many.

A number of the replacement candidates attacked Proposition 13 or said they would change it. Usually in gubernatorial elections, there are two major candidates and each recognizes that Proposition 13 is overwhelmingly popular with average voters so they express support.

However, our recall system created a situation where there were perhaps a half dozen conceivable winners. This means that some candidates recognized that they could grab the brass ring with just 30 percent of the vote and appealing to those who oppose Proposition 13 could help accomplish this goal. As a result we saw left-leaning Cruz Bustamante, Arianna Huffington and Peter Camejo all come out swinging at Proposition 13.

The good news is that -- due to the recall -- taxpayers know more about their opposition, what they intend, and are in a better position to counter their activities to undercut taxpayer protections.

The bad news is that attacks on Proposition 13 are not limited to candidates for governor. Several bills survive in the Legislature that are intended to reduce the vote required by Proposition 13 to pass local special purpose taxes.

However, at least these bills are straightforward attacks. More ominous are the tricky maneuvers to get around Proposition 13's requirement for a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve new taxes.

First we saw the tripling of the car tax based on a decision by the executive branch. In spite of various self-serving justifications by the Davis Administration including, "it's not a tax it's a fee," we believe that this clearly violates the provisions of Proposition 13 and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has filed suit.

Now, to add insult to injury, some lawmakers want to replace the car tax increase with higher income taxes. They say that this should not require a two-thirds vote because they are not "raising" taxes, they are just "replacing" one tax with another -- this after they claimed that the car tax increase wasn't a tax. If this seems confusing and disingenuous, welcome to the world of Sacramento tax politics.

Some have suggested that higher vehicle taxes have nothing to do with Proposition 13, but they are mistaken. Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann clearly intended Proposition 13 as a comprehensive program of taxpayer protections. After all, what good does it do to give homeowners $500 in property tax relief if government can turn around and easily impose a $600 increase in other taxes?

As hostile as the situation in the Legislature is for taxpayers, this is not the only threat.

Unfortunately, taxpayers must be prepared to fend off new attacks on Proposition 13 through the initiative process. A coalition of public employee unions has succeeded in qualifying a measure for the ballot that would eliminate the two-thirds vote needed for the Legislature to pass a budget and to impose new taxes. In order to make it sound
attractive they are calling it the "Budget Accountability Act" and they have included a provision to dock lawmakers' pay if they do not pass a budget on time. Punishing members of the Legislature is window dressing and the title of this measure is fraudulent. The title should be the "blank check initiative" because it would give the Legislature and the measure's sponsors unlimited access to taxpayers' wallets.

While taxpayers will have to play good defense, we also must be preparing to go on the offensive. This includes limiting government's ability to spend and run up huge deficits, providing relief to property tax payers by increasing the homeowners exemption and renters tax credit, and restoring the two-thirds vote for all local bonds that are repaid exclusively by property owners.


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