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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] [go to Coupal index]

The Real 'Special Interests'
Public employee unions, not good-government types, are behind Prop. 56...
[Jon Coupal]

The first rule of politics is to tear down your opponent. That might not be fair, but, regrettably, it is just a fact of campaigning in modern democracies. When your opponent is a candidate, you conduct "opposition research" to dig up dirt. But with an initiative, it is more difficult to make it personal.

Nonetheless, one way to fight in the initiative wars is to claim that your opposition does not represent "real" Californians but, rather, "special interests" consisting of organizations or businesses with a narrow, self-interested agenda.

The proponents of Proposition 56 are making that claim. Prop. 56 would eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement necessary to pass a statewide tax in California. It is also a direct assault on a key taxpayer protection of Proposition 13 and would make it much easier -- far too easy, in fact -- to raise taxes. Backers of Prop. 56 argue that their opponents are "special interest" corporations out to rip off "normal" citizens.

It is time to pull the curtain back and look at who the real special interests are in the Prop. 56 debate.

Prop. 56 proponents are depicted as the League of Women Voters, good government groups like the California Budget Project and Californians for Warm Fuzzy Animals. (Just kidding on that last one.) But the campaign finance disclosures reveal a startling fact: Public employee unions are the biggest -- and almost exclusive -- driving force behind Prop. 56.

Indeed, just one contribution -- $2.8 million -- was transferred from the state service employees union into the Prop. 56 campaign. Campaign contribution data as of Feb. 12 show total contributions supporting Prop. 56 are now in excess of $10 million, with more than $6 million coming from the same union.

But they are not the only labor group financing Prop. 56. Other public employee unions are infusing cash into the "Yes on 56" campaign, including the California Federation of Teachers.

These same unions, in debates and in commercials and literature supporting Prop. 56, try to deflect legitimate criticism of the initiative by highlighting the sources of the financial support for the opposition. The unions cry crocodile tears over the fact that some of California's largest corporations have contributed money to the anti-56 campaign. However, they conveniently ignore the fact that the largest contributor to either side is a single public employee union whose contributions dwarf any individual corporation's support against the measure.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

And these same unions ignore the fact that every legitimate taxpayer group in California -- large or small -- vehemently opposes Prop. 56. From the San Diego Tax Fighters to the Humboldt Taxpayers League, taxpayers throughout California are doing what they can (with not much money) to educate California voters as to what Prop. 56 really does.

They have a tough job.

The proponents have cleverly included provisions in Prop. 56 that many voters would eagerly embrace -- such as docking legislator pay for late budgets. Indeed, the whole façade of "budget accountability" is one that most Californians can agree with since our Legislature often resembles a playground rather than an august institution of deliberative policy-making.

Yes, the California corporate community opposes Prop. 56. But it does so for the same reason that grass-roots taxpayers do. Prop. 56 is about making it easier to raise taxes -- anyone's taxes -- whether they are a major corporation, a mom-and-pop small business, a retired couple on a fixed income or a young family just starting out on the California dream.

Raising taxes at this precarious point in the state's recovering economy would hurt California and her citizens. But it wouldn't hurt the narrow special interests backing Prop. 56. These are the interests that thrive on higher taxes and bigger government. They would use tax increases to expand both their memberships and their benefits. Quite frankly, they deserve neither.

California voters can send a strong message against the special interests of big public labor in California by voting against Prop. 56. Defeating Prop. 56 will preserve the important taxpayer protection of the two-thirds vote currently required by Prop. 13.

This opinion piece first appeared in the Orange County Register

copyright 2004 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association


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