Jon Coupal- Columnist
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] [go
to Coupal index]
56: An Assault on Proposition 13
the never ending onslaught of greedy government
[Jon Coupal] 12/12/03
As the holidays approach and we prepare for the gift giving
season, it is easy to overlook Proposition 56, a "present" for
taxpayers that public employee unions have placed on the March
56, benignly titled the "Budget
Accountability Act," is like the gift the Greeks left outside
the walls of Troy. It contains some very nasty surprises.
Proposition 56's sponsors -- California's largest public employee
unions -- are seeking to lower the vote needed to pass a state
budget and to reduce Proposition 13's requirement of a two-thirds
vote of the Legislature to increase taxes.
Because the promoters
know that a straightforward effort to make it easier to increase
taxes would be rejected by wary voters,
they have wrapped their mischief in attractive packaging. To
convince voters to say yes, backers will be touting Proposition
56's provision to dock lawmakers pay for failure to pass a budget
by the constitutionally mandated deadline, and the measure's
requirement that the state establish a rainy day fund. Then there
is the title, "Budget Accountability Act," with which
they hope to go forward to victory -- after all is anyone opposed
to government accountability?
is all a ruse and the title of this measure is pure fraud.
If these statements were made in commercial advertising
the district attorney would be filing charges. Proposition 56
should properly be called the "Blank Check Initiative" because
it would give lawmakers the ability to take whatever they want
from taxpayers. And because public employee unions are playing
an increasingly powerful role in the election of our representatives,
public employees, who are already the highest paid in the nation,
expect to benefit handsomely.
Proposition 56 is a direct attack on Proposition 13. It would
replace Proposition 13's mandate that new or increased state
taxes be passed with a two-thirds vote, with an easily attainable
During last summer's budget debate, lawmakers introduced measures
that, combined, would have raised taxes at least $60 billion.
If Proposition 56 had been law, many of these bills would have
passed and Californians would now be paying billions of dollars
in new taxes.
Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann designed Proposition 13 to be more
than property tax relief. It was intended to be a complete package
of taxpayer protections. They saw no benefit to reducing a property
owner's taxes if government could turn around and take as much
or more out of the taxpayer's other pocket. To prevent this they
required a public vote on most local taxes and a two-thirds vote
of the Legislature to increase state taxes.
The Proposition 13 system has made it more difficult, but not
impossible to raise taxes. Indeed, the largest tax increase in
California history passed with the higher threshold as recently
as 1991. Given the current makeup of the Legislature, lowering
the vote requirement to 55% would assure that just about every
tax increase proposal would pass. Lawmakers would no longer need
bipartisan consensus or strong justification.
Proposition 56 would also eliminate the two-thirds approval
required to pass a state budget. While critics have blamed this
requirement for the late budgets of recent years, it has been
law for 70 years and has worked well to make sure that all perspectives
on the state budget are considered.
Although some have portrayed this as a Democrats -- who hold
a majority in the Legislature -- verses Republicans issue, opposition
to reducing the two-thirds vote to pass a budget is not limited
to the minority party. Democratic Assemblyman Joseph Canciamilla
has said that the current system encourages compromises that
benefit the public.
If informed voters think Proposition 56 sounds too radical to
pass, they should think again. The deceptive approach taken by
promoters of Proposition 56 has been successful in the recent
In 2000, backers of Proposition 39 were successful in eliminating
the two-thirds vote to raise property taxes to pay for school
bonds. Tens of millions of dollars in television advertising
for Proposition 39 focused exclusively on its dubious accountability
provisions and did not mention how lowering the voter threshold
to 55% would guarantee that almost all school bonds would pass
regardless of merit.
So voters took in the Trojan Horse of Proposition 39 and all
the tax increases it contained. In the three years since the
two-thirds vote was reduced local property owners have been hit
with over $20 billion in new obligations.
If voters are not careful, in March, history will repeat itself.