McClintock 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
(Very) Last Refuge of a Scoundrel
Hiding behind tragedy to make a tax grab...
[Tom McClintock] 11/6/03
Johnson said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he'd
obviously never seen California politics. If he had, he would have known that
tragedy is actually the last refuge, as evidenced by recent attempts to link
the tragic and devastating fires in Southern California to repeal of the car
The argument goes like this: the car tax funds local governments
which fund fire departments, and thus any attempt to reduce the
car tax to its legal level
decimate the budgets that pay for our heroic fire fighters. At a time when
thousands of Californians have just lost to the wildfires, such
rhetoric is outrageous.
It is also factually wrong.
Five years ago, a series of legislative enactments
reduced the car tax by two-thirds. Local governments never lost a penny of
funding, as the same law fully reimbursed
them from the state's general fund. The law even provided that if the state
actually were to go bankrupt, funds would still flow to local
governments by a temporary,
month-to-month increase in car tax assessments directed by the state controller.
June, Gray Davis took it upon himself to triple the car tax indefinitely while
cutting off reimbursements to local governments for three months. His action
cost cities and counties $1 billion in lost revenues and cost motorists an
additional $4 billion in taxes - all in direct violation of state
law. Ironically, the only
time local governments have lost money from the car tax is when Gov. Davis
illegally raised it.
How can such a thing happen in a nation of laws? California's
constitution forbids a court from issuing an injunction to stop
the collection of an illegal
A legal challenge has already been filed, but it must go all the way through
the legal process - including years of appeals - before Davis' action can
The Legislative Counsel's Office (the official legal office of the legislature)
has already opined that not one of the conditions required to raise the tax
has been met. Assuming the courts agree, the illegally collected tax plus
will have to be returned to taxpayers in a few years, blowing a multi-billion
dollar hole in a future state budget.
Thus, Governor-elect Schwarzenegger's promise to rescind Gov. Davis' action not
only could restore the $1 billion that Davis illegally withheld from local governments,
it would prevent the state from being suddenly confronted with a gaping budget
deficit when the courts finally act.
amendment that I have proposed to abolish the car tax - and
that is now in circulation as an initiative
- provides local governments
a constitutional guarantee of reimbursement that future governors and legislatures
cannot evade. It also stops the current practice of the Department of Motor
Vehicles that skims seven percent of the car tax off the top as a "collection fee." And
it grants county governments greater discretion over the use of their funds
than they currently enjoy.
Obviously, economies must be made in the state budget to offset
the difference, and that is why bureaucratic reform is essential.
The streamlining recommendations of the Reason Foundation alone
would provide sufficient savings to afford full abolition of
the tax, while providing local governments more funds, greater
discretion and stronger protection.
Those who believe in protecting local government need not take
refuge in tragedy when there is far safer refuge in the truth.