is an expert on matters of the State budget and fiscal discipline.
He is a Senator in the California State Legislature and ran for
Controller on the Republican ticket in 2002. His valuable website
is found at www.tommclintock.com
Mount Vesuvius of Misinformation
by Senator Tom McClintock
spending lobby has recently erupted into a veritable Mount Vesuvius
of misinformation over the state’s car tax. It amounts essentially
to this: unless the car tax is immediately tripled, police and
fire protection will be decimated.
In the five years since the car tax was reduced, local governments
have not lost a penny of funding and they won’t in the future.
It would take a vote of the legislature to approve such a reduction
and both houses have already unanimously rejected the idea outright.
The next time an official says, “local police and fire protection
will be devastated unless the car tax is tripled,” ask them
to name even one legislator who has pledged to eliminate local
assistance. Just one. There aren’t any. And it would take
at least 63 legislators in both houses to change the law to do
But isn’t the tax supposed to increase in tough economic
times? No. The wording of the law is quite clear and has been
consistently administered for nearly five years. The car tax can
only increase if there are insufficient funds in the state’s
operating account to meet its monthly obligations – that
is, if the controller is incompetent and fails to maintain a cash
balance in the state’s checking account or if he is unable
to arrange the necessary financing. Neither event has ever occurred
in the history of California.
What do public officials really mean when they say, “If
we don’t raise taxes, police and fire protection will be
devastated?” They mean that police and fire protection are
their lowest priorities and the very first things they will cut
in a pinch. I worry about such people in positions of authority.
Last week the Senate Republican caucus offered an alternative
plan that would balance the budget within two years without raising
taxes. There is no excuse for tax increases at a time when state
government is already spending a larger portion of your earnings
than ever before -- and delivering less.
Even after California’s car tax was reduced to its current
level, it is still the highest tax of the five largest states
in the country, and indeed is twice as high as the next runner-up,
Illinois. It is a tax on a necessity of life and not a penny is
dedicated for highway construction.
There’s one more reason to be skeptical that raising the
car tax will curb the state’s spending binge. It was recently
revealed that Gov. Davis, knowing the dire financial condition
of the state, has allowed his bureaucracies to spend $4.1 billion
above and beyond the budget approved by the legislature last September
(which was itself too big to be sustained by California’s
economy). The proposed car tax hike won’t even cover the
unauthorized spending Davis has permitted in the past six months.
Over the last four years, even while the recession was suppressing
tax receipts and the car tax was being trimmed, state revenues
have still increased a healthy 25 percent while inflation and
population combined have grown only 21 percent. This is not a
revenue problem. The problem is that spending in the same period
has ballooned 40 percent.
And that’s not the fault of taxpayers for not paying enough