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M. David Stirling- Contributor

Mr. Stirling is vice president of Pacific Legal Foundation, a public interest legal organization that has defended Prop 13 in the courts.

Mugging California Taxpayers
Assault on Prop 13
[M. David Stirling] 09/10/03

All points bulletin: assault in progress. Location? California. The perpetrators? A gang of tax-and-spend legislators, fronted by a coalition of public employee unions, local governments officials, and other recipients and "want-to-be" recipients of taxpayer-paid services and benefits. The weapon? An initiative measure deceptively-named "The Budget Accountability Act." The victim? California's taxpayers.

Most people recognize Proposition 13 for its major impact on reducing and limiting increases in their property taxes. In the primary election of June 6, 1978, nearly 66 percent of California's voters embraced Howard Jarvis' "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" campaign to reduce property tax rates. Since 1978, millions of California property owners - even those who purchased years after the measure's enactment - have benefited from the limitations it placed on tax rate increases and annual valuation growth. In 1979, property owners statewide paid $57 million less in property taxes than they did the year before, with cumulative property tax savings over 25 years estimated at over $200 billion. The gang of big-taxers believes that because Prop 13's property-tax limitation feature overshadows its other major tax-limiting provision, the latter is currently vulnerable to an assault. That other provision is Article 13A, Section 3 of the California Constitution that requires approval by two-thirds of the members of both houses of the Legislature of ". . . any changes in state taxes . . . whether by increased rates or changes in methods of computation . . . ." The big- taxer gang's weapon, the so-called "Budget Accountability Act" initiative, would lower the requirement for approving tax increases (and the state budget) from two-thirds to a 55-percent vote in the Legislature.

There is no mystery in the current assault on Prop 13's "super-majority vote" requirement. In practice, it means that a bill to enact a new tax or to increase an existing tax requires 54 of 80 votes in the Assembly, and 27 of 40 votes in the Senate - neither of which the big-taxers can muster without some Republican votes. With Republicans generally unwilling to support tax increases (with one major lapse during Republican Governor Pete Wilson's first year), big taxers have found the two-thirds vote requirement a maddening obstacle. Fortunately for California taxpayers, the super-majority vote has saved them untold billions in higher taxes over the past 25 years. The assault on the super-majority vote requirement is lead by the same gang of big spenders whose undisciplined spending over the past four years turned a $12 billion surplus (1999) into the $38 billion deficit Californians are plagued with today.

The big-taxers gang has never accepted the people's overwhelming embrace of the tax-revolt Prop 13 epitomizes. (A 1998 Los Angeles Times poll showed 66 percent of Californians still favored Prop 13, and the measure remains wildly popular in 2003, its 25th anniversary.) They blame Prop 13 for all the ills of state and local governments, the decline of public education, the national mood that enabled the Ronald Reagan presidency, and even California's current historic fiscal mess that they themselves created.

Their appetite for increasing quantities of taxpayer-generated revenue is insatiable. As Senator Ray Haynes warned them in a January, 2002, Senate Floor debate, "You have a spending addiction! And what we're saying is . . . (w)e are not going to let you destroy yourselves and destroy this state through your addiction. We are going to say 'No!' and when you finally face . . . the people in the State of California and say you've got a problem, that's when we'll say, 'okay, let's start dealing with . . . your spending addiction.' "

The big-taxer gang claims it has collected more than enough signatures to qualify its "Budget Accountability Act" initiative for the March, 2004, primary election ballot. Rather than dealing with its spending addiction, its assaults on Prop 13's mechanism for preventing new and higher taxes demonstrates it's really looking for a fix. With $60 billion of tax-increase proposals currently awaiting action in the Legislature, according to the California Taxpayers Association, the big-taxer gang is planning more than an assault on Prop 13. It's really planning an all-out mugging of California taxpayers.

copyright 2003 Pacific Legal Foundation



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