Posts

Sacramento and Unions: Addicted to Our Cash

In November, we will be asked to reject or approve “The California Children’s Education and Health Care Protection Act of 2016.” If approved by a majority of the voters, this ballot measure, Proposition 55, will extend to December 31, 2030 the “temporary” income tax surcharges on upper income Californians that were authorized in November of 2012 when 55% of the voters approved Proposition 30.

Prop 30 was designed to prevent “devastating” cuts to the State’s educational budget by establishing a seven year “soak the rich” income tax surcharge (2012 to 2018) and a four year quarter of a cent increase in our sales tax (2013 to 2016).

According to Legislative Analyst, this 12 year extension of the ‘temporary” income surcharges will increase state revenues by $4 billion to $9 billion a year from 2019 through 2030, depending on the economy and, importantly, the stock market.  This year’s budget assumed $7 billion from these income tax surcharges. 

But this is not the only “revenue enhancement” scheme that is being cooked up by our friends in Sacramento and the campaign funding leadership of the public sector unions.

State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is pushing to extend the sales tax to include services.  This so called “reform” would generate “roughly $10 billion in its first year and increasing amounts thereafter.”  According to a chart prepared by the California Board of Equalization, the State has identified 15 industries and 487,000 firms that have the potential to generate $111 billion in sales tax revenue.  This includes lawyers, accountants, and other value added service providers.

State Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) is pushing to extend sales tax to include those services provided by service providers like lawyers and accountants.

 

According to a report by State Controller Betty Yee and her Council of Economic Advisors on Tax Reform, another revenue enhancement is the “split roll” where commercial and industrial properties would be assessed at their fair market value.  At a 1% property tax rate, annual “revenue gains would likely surpass $5 billion and may add up to more than $10.2 billion.”  However, the split roll will require the approval of the voters since it involves amending Proposition 13, the third rail of California politics.

The folks in Sacramento and their cronies in the transportation lobby are also beating the drums for an increase our gas tax, already the highest in the nation when you factor in the impact of the “cap & trade” fees.  This proposed increase is estimated to be in the range of $2 billion to $4 billion a year.  This money would help fund efforts of the California Department of Transportation to repair the State’s highways, roads, bridges, and other related infrastructure.

At the same time, the State is swiping $1 billion a year from CalTrans, a bloated agency where 3,500 surplus employees are costing the State, its taxpayers, and our roads over $500 million a year.

Our good friend Hertzberg is also pushing a bill (SB 1298) that would allow stormwater / urban runoff to be considered as wastewater, thereby allowing the County of Los Angeles to levy $20 billion in fees without the approval of the voters.  This would result in an increase in our real estate taxes of 8%.

Proposition 30 has done an admirable job of making up revenue shortfall over the last five years.  Since 2012, the State’s General Fund revenues have increased by almost $34 billion (39%) while overall revenues, including special funds, has increased to almost $171 billion, a bump of more than 40%.

Now that income and sales tax revenues have rebounded to record levels, Proposition 55 and the 12 year extension of the “temporary” income tax surcharges represents just another revenue grab by the State, the California Teachers Association, the hospital lobby, and the SEIU (Service International Employees Union) that deserves to be rejected by the voters in November.

And while a “soak the rich” tax has a certain appeal, we need to be careful not to kill the golden goose.  If only a small percentage of the upper income taxpayers and their profitable corporations and the small businesses they control decide to relocate or not invest in our economy, many of our fellow citizens will be without good manufacturing or value added service oriented jobs.

We need to send a message to the fiscally irresponsible scoundrels in Sacramento, their cronies, and the campaign funding leaders of the public sector unions that we are not their ATM.  After all, we are doing more than our fair share as we have the highest income tax rate, the highest sales tax, and the highest gas prices in the country.

About the Author: Jack Humphreville is a LA Watchdog writer for CityWatch, President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and Publisher of the Recycler

Teachers Union Hits Taxpayers with ‘Money Club’ Again

The California Teachers Association has just dropped $10 million into its campaign to extend the “temporary” income tax hike voters approved when they passed Proposition 30 in 2012. Proposition 55, which will appear on this November’s ballot, would extend the highest income tax rates in all 50 states for another dozen years.

Four years ago, the muscular union, called by many in Sacramento the “Fourth Branch of Government,” spent over $11 million to convince voters to increase sales and income taxes. The campaign, paid for by government employee unions and led by Gov. Jerry Brown, repeatedly promised voters the higher taxes would last only a few years and then go away.

These ultra-high tax rates are scheduled to end in 2018 and union leaders are panicking. If the tax increase ends, there may be less money to fund increases in member pay and benefits.

Spending big money on politics is not unusual for the deep pocketed CTA which receives its funding from mandatory dues. Those dues, withheld from members’ paychecks whether they like it or not, can total more than $1000 a year for a single teacher. Recall that CTA laid out $58 million in opposing several worthy reform measures in a 2005 special election including one reform that would have capped state spending. Union leaders like a guaranteed cash flow so it should come as no surprise if they put out an additional $10 million, or more, to support the Proposition 55 income tax extension. For backers of Proposition 55, spending millions in return for billions of tax dollars is considered a bargain.

The campaign will, no doubt, target low information voters with messages about how, “it’s for the children.” It is standard operational procedure for tax promoters to use children as human shields when advancing a tax increase tied to education. Not to be mentioned is that the union’s interest is solely in increasing pay and benefits, including generous pensions, for members who are already paid more than $20,000 above the national average. And don’t forget that a national education union leader once famously said “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children.”

The California Teachers Association has spent $10 million dollars into extending the Prop. 30 “temporary tax”

 

Some will argue that ultra-high taxes should be maintained because public employees deserve to be well paid. They are. According the Department of Labor, California is the state with the best paid state and local government employees.

Our state is running a multi-billion-dollar surplus, yet Proposition 55 backers want to continue the ultra-high taxes that are already pushing businesses, and the jobs they provide, to relocate out of state. And it’s not just businesses. The list of high wealth individuals including professional athletes and entertainers who have bailed out of California is a mile long.

But the deleterious impact of high taxes is wholly lost on the union bosses. Their attention is, no doubt, on the latest news from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System. The second-largest U.S. public pension fund earned a paltry 1.4 percent return on investments in the fiscal year just ended, missing its target of 7.5 percent for the second straight year.  This raises questions about the fund’s management and whether or not it will be able to meet its obligation to 896,000 current and retired teachers.

Of course, taxpayers remain the guarantor of all public employee pensions so, in all fairness, the Proposition 55 income tax extension could come to be called the “pension tax.” And the teachers union is prepared to use its massive “money club” on voters to make sure Proposition 55 passes and the taxpayers’ dollars are there.

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.

CalChamber Opposes “Virtually Permanent” Prop 30 Tax

With the California Chamber of Commerce announcing yesterday that it will oppose the Proposition 30, income tax extension, the question arises if a campaign will come together to match the financial firepower that the teachers, medical professionals and other public employee unions bring to the table in support of the measure.

Officially, the word from the Chamber is that it is opposed to the extension but nothing has been announced about a potential campaign … yet.

Proponents of the 12-year income tax extension filed signatures recently to get the measure on the ballot.

CalChamber noted in the release announcing opposition to the initiative that it did not oppose Proposition 30 in 2012. The measure was supposed to be temporary to deal with a financial crisis.
However, CalChamber declared that the extension would make the tax “virtually permanent, even when the state’s budget is balanced.”

The Chamber’s announcement comes on the heels of word from the California Business Roundtable (CBRT) that the decision to organize a campaign in opposition to the Prop 30 extension will depend on actions taken by the legislature on business issues.

 

Rob Lapsley, President of the California Business Roundtable (CBRT)

Rob Lapsley, President of the California Business Roundtable (CBRT)

 

CBRT president, Rob Lapsley, told the Sacramento Business Journal that the Roundtable will watch if the legislature tackles health care and education reforms along with specific bills of interest to the business community such as the requirement to give employees a seven days notice before changing work shifts.
Lapsley emphasized that the Roundtable’s decision would also rest on how the Prop 30 extension may impact the state’s economic health.

One issue the CalChamber raised in opposition to the extension was the problem of revenue volatility tied to higher income taxes. The Chamber feared significant reduced revenue to the state during future recessions.

Keeping the higher income tax rates for income over $250,000 could also hurt small businesses that pay taxes through the business owners’ income. In a recent BizFed poll in Los Angeles County, a key finding was that “personal income taxes have the most impact on small business (of 100 employees or less).”

Will concern from the business community over the Prop 30 extension effort gel into a campaign to stop the initiative that will be backed by millions of dollars in union support?

About the Author: Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. This article originally appeared in Fox & Hounds and appears here with permission.

Special Interests and Hospitals Inflict Pain On Taxpayers

In 2012, those of us who opposed Proposition 30 were told that the measure, which was the largest state tax hike in American history, was just a “temporary” fix to address the emergency of a severe budget shortfall. But just as Milton Friedman noted that “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government measure,” here in California it appears that nothing is so permanent as a temporary tax increase.

However, in their journey to extend the Prop 30 tax hikes, the tax raisers started tripping over their own greed. Even the public sector union bosses weren’t reading off the same page and different proposals began to emerge, each targeting billions of dollars of tax revenue to their respective constituencies. And compounding the problem was the fact that the “emergency,” which was the entire justification for Prop 30 in the first place, disappeared. California now has a budget surplus.

But greed being a powerful motivator, the special interests worked out a compromise that focused on extending only the income tax portion of Prop 30 and jettisoning the sales tax. This move was politically expedient given that only the income tax portion targeted “evil” rich people while the sales tax extension would have been an almost impossible sell. (If the version of the Prop 30 extension currently gathering signature passes, California’s highest in the nation tax rate of 13.3% would be extended until 2030).

Despite California's budget surplus, Special Interests continue to try to extend what was supposed to be a "temporary tax increase."

Despite California’s budget surplus, Special Interests continue to try to extend what was supposed to be a “temporary tax increase.”

In Sacramento, the normal political dichotomy is between those interests seeking to preserve what they have (i.e., businesses and taxpayers) and those interests seeking to take resources from, or impose regulations on, the former. For example, homeowners want to keep their tax dollars and thus are supportive of Proposition 13 while public sector labor interests and local governments want more of those dollars and thus loath Proposition 13 as it impedes their tax raising ability.

But the dichotomy sometimes breaks down because the line between private interests and public interests isn’t always clear. For example, California has both private and public hospitals with private institutions outnumbering the public by a factor of six. So one would think that the interests of hospitals would be more aligned with seeking lower taxes. But because hospitals get billions in public revenue for Medi-Cal, they have no problem seeking higher revenues for themselves at the expense of others.

And that is why the California Hospital Association has donated $12.5 million to the effort to extend California’s sky high income tax rate. Apparently, they remain unconcerned about the economic damage that comes from excessive taxes.

But the hospitals’ doubling down on the Prop 30 extension may not have been well thought out. That is because they want desperately to have voters approve another measure that has already qualified for the ballot in November. Originally intended for the 2014 ballot (but they missed the deadline) this proposal requires high procedural requirements (two-thirds vote of the Legislature and voter approval) before some of the existing Medi-Cal reimbursements to hospitals can be reduced.

So the question that voters must now ask themselves is why should we support the hospital industry in its effort to protect what it currently gets from government while it is also trying to force a $6-11 billion annual tax hike on Californians?

Good question.

About the Author: 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.

Affordable Tuition vs. Gargantuan Pensions for Unionized Faculty

Californians have abysmally low levels of civic engagement as evidenced by the recent election where voter turnout set an historic low.  And the widespread disengagement of California’s younger voters is even worse.

True, in 2008 California’s youth turned out in large numbers to elect Barack Obama as President.  And in 2012 they turned out again because, in addition to Obama being up for reelection, Proposition 30 was on the ballot.  Proposition 30, which gave California the highest income tax rate and highest state sales tax rate in America was, ironically, entitled Temporary Taxes to Fund Education.

During the Proposition 30 campaign, Governor Brown traveled to several university campuses to push the massive tax hike promising that passage would prevent tuition hikes. California’s college students, being as gullible as they are idealistic, believed the promise hook, line and sinker.  So much for critical thinking.

But perhaps California’s younger voters are finally getting wise to all the broken promises of tax-and-spend politicians and that might explain, in part, why they stayed home in this last election.  And sure enough, their increasing cynicism is proving to be well founded.

Despite the massive tax hikes ostensibly to keep higher education affordable, the University of California Board of Regents just announced a sizable increase in tuition.  And UC students are none too happy.

Turns out that the driving force behind these hikes is the growing unfunded liability of UC’s pension fund and other items of questionable compensation.  Allysia Finley with the Wall Street Journal explains:  “UCs this year needed to spend an additional $73 million on pensions, $30 million on faculty bonuses, $24 million on health benefits and $16 million on collectively bargained pay increases. The regents project that they will require $250 million more next year to finance increased compensation and benefit costs.”

Moreover, Finley reveals the extraordinary level of waste in the UC system:  “Ms. Napolitano [President of the University of California] says that the UCs have cut their budgets to the bone, yet her own office includes nearly 2,000 employees—a quarter of whom make six-figure salaries. An associate vice president of federal government relations earns $273,375 a year, plus $55,857 in retirement and health benefits, according to the state controller’s office.  Thirty professors at UC Santa Cruz rake in more than $200,000 in pay, and most faculty can retire at 60 and receive a pension equal to 75% of their final salary. More than 2,100 retirees in the university retirement system collected six-figure pensions in 2011.”

At the moment, the outrage expressed by students in their protests – one of which resulted in a shattered glass door outside a meeting of the UC Regents – seems a bit unfocused.  They’re angry but, aside from the mere fact that their education costs are rising, many are not clear about the causes.

In a weird way, UC’s pension crisis might be the ultimate teachable moment for college students who typically have little grasp of anything related to public finance.

So, students, here’s the scoop:  There’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Public employee compensation is expensive; especially pension costs that you will be paying long after those of us who are older are long gone.  Government waste, fraud and abuse in California is a real problem.  Those who pay taxes – a lot of taxes – have choices where to live and move their businesses – and that may not be in California.  Debt means future costs.  You might like the idea of High Speed Rail but you might want to study both the costs and viability of any megaproject before you hop on board.

And finally, don’t buy into any promise by any politician about what they are going to do for you without first figuring out what they are going to do to you.

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.