California's Government Union Quandary – Support More Taxes Yet Claim Budget "Surpluses"
Californians know them well. They are the Proposition 13 “blamers.” They blame Proposition 13 for everything they see or even imagine as negative in the state of California.
Some years ago, a newspaper editorial asked if Proposition 13 was responsible for a measles epidemic saying it may have limited the availability of vaccine. A national publication suggested that O.J. Simpson’s acquittal of murder charges was due to the tax limiting measure because prosecuting attorneys may not have been paid enough.
Most recently, a column by a West Coast writer published in the New York Times claimed that one of the reasons that Los Angeles is becoming a “third world” city is reduced funding for education caused by the tax revolt that passed Proposition 13. As is typical, the writer ignores the fact that California now spends 30 percent more per pupil, in inflation adjusted dollars, than the amount spent just prior to the passage of Proposition 13 — a time when both liberals and conservatives agree that California schools were among the best in the nation.
Most Californians know they are overtaxed and that’s bad news for the blamers. And the latest news about California tax revenue is even worse for 13’s detractors. According to a review by the California Taxpayers Association of counties that have so far released their assessment rolls — showing the value of property as of January 1, 2015 — there is dramatic increase in values and that’s driving property tax revenue up rapidly. For example, Santa Clara County has seen an increase of 8.67 percent over the previous year.
Rapidly rising property tax revenue is not only making the Prop 13 blamers look foolish, it is adding compelling evidence to the argument that California should be considering tax reductions, not increases. News reports abound in the Golden State about the California economic recovery and a $6 billion dollar budget surplus. The two big sources for state revenue — sales taxes and income taxes — have preceded property taxes in seeing big increases. The latest news from county assessors simply completes the tax revenue trifecta.
Here’s the rub. Interests groups that want tax hikes — mostly public sector labor organizations — are running out of time to make a decision on which tax hikes to pursue for the November 2016 ballot. (To qualify an initiative takes about a year of lead time). We at HJTA hear that there are disagreements within those interests as to which tax hikes to pursue. Californians will almost certainly see a tobacco tax increase on the ballot as well as a possible tax on oil production. But what about extending the Proposition 30 tax hikes on sales and income? The flush status of the state budget renders those proposals questionable.
More importantly, the significant increase in property tax revenues raises serious questions about the viability of a so-called “split roll” proposal which would deprive business property of Prop 13 protections. Split roll proposals have been defeated before in California and, of all the tax hikes being considered by the tax-and-spend lobby, hitting commercial property with a $9 billion tax hike is going to be next to impossible to justify to California voters.
The next few months will be very revealing as to the tax raisers strategies. But whatever tax or taxes they decide to target, those paying the bill should be prepared to push back with the argument that California does not need any more tax hikes at all. And we should push back very hard.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.