Photo by Josh Hild
California Supreme Court removes taxpayer-protection measure from November ballot

California Supreme Court removes taxpayer-protection measure from November ballot

There’s much to be ticked off about following the state Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to remove a taxpayer-protection measure from the November ballot.

There’s also a solution, one that’s available to every Californian over the age of 17 years and 364 days: Think like the Apple ad campaign and Vote Different.

That opportunity will come in November.

This morning, watch as every member of the Party of Government — elected Democrats who own every state office and the legislature, the seven black-robed judges on the state’s high court (each of whom ought to be outfitted with a bright yellow helmet), unelected agency officials, and government union leaders in public education, public safety, and the DMV — is wearing a white Patrizia von Brandenstein suit, pointing at a rotating mirror ball in 4/4 time, and dancing 140 beats per minute to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” They’re high on endorphins, these officials, feeling the rush of the body’s natural painkillers, living the California progressive’s exhilarating dream: they control everything, and they still want to claim they’re part of the proletariat, celebrating like it’s October 1917.

But tomorrow will come, and then they’ll also own the baleful results of indulging themselves in the privilege of endless tax hikes and fees. Here’s what will happen next: Prices will rise, consumers will struggle as the cost of living spikes like swinging a cartoonish mallet at the lever at the base of one of those Hi-Striker games at the county fair, and then the economy will make the flatulent sound of a balloon exhausting itself. State and local officials will express astonishment as Californians flee to other, less-hostile states. And when the tax revenue associated with all this chaos declines, they’ll blame the rich — Big Oil, “wealthy” business owners who don’t “pay their fair share” — and then raise taxes again.

It’s already happening, of course, so this isn’t really a prediction so much as an elaboration on current trends. Already laboring beneath the nation’s highest taxes — and, consequently, the highest cost of living — run-of-the-mill Californians may be surprised to find that leaders of government unions think those taxes ought to be higher.

That’s not what you’ll hear them say. See if you can find the Google translator for “American English to Marx” here:

“The Taxpayer Deception Act was a flagrant attempt by a few extremely wealthy real estate developers to undermine our entire democratic system and our voice as voters and devastate the vital services Californians rely on — all to avoid paying their fair share,” David Huerta, president of SEIU California and SEIU United Service Workers West, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is a strong warning to corporate interests that even those with the fattest pocketbooks will be held accountable to follow our laws.”

“We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the Taxpayer Deception Act from the ballot,” Lorena Gonzalez, who heads the California Labor Federation, said in a statement. “This unconstitutional measure was another cynical and self-serving effort by corporate interests to put their greed ahead of the needs of all Californians.”

“We have argued from day one that the Taxpayer Deception Act is an illegal revision to the constitution funded by a handful of wealthy real-estate developers and landlords desperate to avoid paying their fair share,” said Jonathan Underland, a spokesperson for the campaign opposing the initiative. “The Supreme Court’s decision to take this dangerous initiative off the ballot avoids a host of catastrophic impacts, protecting billions of dollars for schools, access to reproductive healthcare, gun safety laws that keep students safe in classrooms” and, oh, “paid family leave.”

Speaker of the Assembly Robert Rivas (D-Salinas) is especially effusive. “I’m very pleased,” he said in a statement — pleased that “the California Supreme Court rejected this unlawful and extreme effort to take power away from local communities to pay for essential services like police and firefighters. I will always work to protect hardworking Californians and remain committed to responsible government action that uplifts all residents of our state.”

Break down Rivas’s statement and you’ll find almost everything that’s broken in California:


The justices acknowledged “the important state interest in protecting the fundamental right of the people to propose statutory or constitutional changes through the initiative process,” a fundamental right that “requires that a court exercise considerable caution before intervening to remove or withhold the measure from an imminent election.”

For that reason, the justices said, “We typically review constitutional challenges to an initiative after an election in order to avoid disrupting the electoral process and the exercise of the franchise.”

That’s what legal professionals and scholars call “post-enactment review.” The court says it took the unusual step of intervening before the election in order to avoid inflicting psychological distress on Californians.

“Deferring a decision until after the election not only will defeat the constitutionally contemplated procedure … but may contribute to an increasing cynicism on the part of the electorate with respect to the efficacy of the initiative process…. It will confuse some voters and frustrate others, and an ultimate decision that the measure is invalid, coming after the voters have voted in favor of the measure, tends to denigrate the legitimate use of the initiative procedure.”

It’s impossible to find those polite considerations for our mental wellbeing anywhere in the state constitution, of course. And you might be excused for feeling, well, cynical, confused and frustrated following the court’s remarkable intervention in this case.

“When I read this, my head exploded,” says California Policy Center attorney Julie Hamill. “The court should have refrained from preelection review, let the voters decide, then, if the measure was adopted by voters, conducted postelection review while staying implementation of the problematic sections until a decision is made on the merits.” At that point, Hamill says, if the court found “certain sections unconstitutional, it could have severed those sections” while preserving the rest of the initiative.


When you raise taxes, you raise the cost of everything. It’s “hardworking Californians” — consumers who live in “local communities” — who will pay. What’s “extreme” is Rivas’s economic illiteracy.

Same goes for the measure’s limit on government agencies’ power to add fees to every service government provides. State Democrats are still trying to get political traction for the idea that among the gravest threats facing California — fossil fuels, police, parents of school kids, Republicans — is the specter of hidden fees in commercial transactions. But most of us get the irony: Democrats like Rivas are silent on the myriad ways in which government acts like an exotic, multi-armed religious god, an omnipresent deity with at least one hand in every pocket. This measure would have put the god in a box.


Rivas’s statement also reveals who was behind the effort to kill this measure. The people cock-a-doodling loudest about the court’s decision are the people behind the people behind Gavin Newsom — California’s government union leaders.

For them, the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Initiative was like the preternaturally tall skeletal guy wearing a black shroud and carrying a scythe. It was the end of the road for endless tax hikes. What was Reagan’s line? “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”

California Teachers Association president David Goldberg — who, though it’s hard to imagine, signs his emails “in solidarity” — declared the measure a “dangerous attempt by wealthy corporations to undermine our state constitution and defund our public institutions.” He also alerted us to what’s next — that is, more taxes. In his letter to union members yesterday, Goldberg, who earns nearly half a million per year, promised to “fight forward to win the funding and resources that California’s schools and communities deserve.”

Goldberg and the state’s other government union leaders are to taxes what Homer Simpson is to an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet — neither man nor beast but a remorseless eating machine. Union leaders are behind every tax hike in California. That makes them natural enemies of every attempt to restrain them. When Goldberg says “wealthy corporations” were behind the Taxpayer Protection Act, he’s projecting: No single entity in California spends more on politics than the California Teachers Association: the teachers union raises and spends $315 million annually to influence state and local elections. No one else comes close.

It’s worth noting that government unions — including American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, California Teachers Association, Association of California School Administrators, California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, and California State Council of Laborers — have contributed at least $2.45 million to Rivas’s campaign this election cycle.


First, Californians ought to abandon all hope in the state’s initiative and referendum system. Defenders of the system — a 1911 product of the progressive movement, mind you — will point out that state ballot measures offer voters direct access to the levers of political power. But we Californians already have direct access to that power — in elections of statewide officers and state legislators. If we don’t like how our elected officials operate, we ought to throw the bums out on their, um, bums. Attempting end runs through outrageously expensive ballot campaigns designed to circumvent the three branches of government distracts us from our power to directly affect the outcomes of state races.

We can respect the people who aspire to transform government — like our friends behind The Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act – without agreeing that multi-million-dollar ballot measures are prudent.

Second, the state of California is dysfunctional because we voters have elected people with whom you would not trust the repair of a hairbrush, people like Newsom and Rivas, men and women who believe that our primary duty is to expand government.

Knowing who to vote for can be complicated. Here’s a hack: look at endorsements for each candidate and ballot measure. If you see a government-union endorsement — teachers, police, fire fighters, prison guards, SEIU and others — run. Do not look back lest you be transformed into a pillar of salt. Do not vote for candidates backed by government unions. Individually, the men and women in these unions are as good as the Bell Curve that describes the distribution of virtue among the general public. But when these people pay dues to unions, they are funding the campaigns of the candidates who have driven California toward the abyss.

Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center and co-host with David Bahnsen of National Review’s “Radio Free California” podcast. 

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