One lingering success of the Right in California is the public’s continued association of taxpayers’ organizations with fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and limited government. Statewide groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and regional groups such as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association maintain credibility as leaders in resisting foolhardy tax increases and wasteful spending.
This reputation translates into political power. In 2000, various interest groups wanted California voters to approve what became Proposition 39, a ballot measure that reduced the threshold from 2/3 to 55% for voter approval of K-12 school districts and community college districts to borrow money for construction by selling bonds. To create the impression of responsible oversight for spending, Prop 39 required the establishment of a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, with the requirement that “One member shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.”
Not surprisingly, labor unions are cleverly trying to hide behind alleged taxpayers’ organizations as a way to advance their own political agenda, which typically entails higher taxes and more government spending. One example is the San Diego-based “Middle Class Taxpayers Association,” which succeeded in 2011 in getting the Southwest Community College District board to boot a representative of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association from the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee and replace her with their own representative.
The new “bona fide taxpayers’ organization” representative was the political director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 36 and Local 831. As you have probably guessed by now, construction unions wanted to neutralize any internal resistance to their lobbying campaign for the college board of trustees to require their contractors to sign a union Project Labor Agreement. (That requirement is now in effect.)
Then there’s the Richmond-based “Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group.” It issued a letter in 2012 critical of a study produced by the head of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, who was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the legitimate Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. Little information is available on the web about this group, but considering that it seems to pop up only when construction unions are lobbying for Project Labor Agreements, it’s obvious that this group serves union interests.
Another example is revealed in the January 29, 2014 column “Lack of Leadership a Big Obstacle in Updating Prop 13” by George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. It asks “Are California voters ready yet to change Proposition 13 so that all corporations pay their fair share of property taxes?”
Corporations are not paying their “fair share” in taxes, according to the perspective of this column. A reader might wonder what “fair share” means, and think there’s a balanced, objective, data-based argument when reading this:
Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., has been pushing for years to modify Prop. 13 and close the corporate loopholes.
“We’re trying to organize, educate and expose what’s really happening,” he says. “We’re developing data and looking at some of the largest landowners in the state. If it turns out people don’t care, they don’t care.”
“My modest goal is to get it out front and center so people can have a discussion and not avert their eyes.”
According to the columnist, this taxpayers’ organization has a “modest” goal for a public “discussion” about an injustice it has identified in the tax code. Sounds reasonable. Perhaps the group wants corporations to pay their “fair share,” so that ordinary taxpayers can get a tax cut.
Or perhaps not.
Mr. Skelton has written for the Los Angeles Times since 1974, and new challenges face newspaper columnists in 2014 that were not around 40 years ago. One of them is busybody readers and their access to a newfangled “series of tubes” called the Internet that can be filled with information, such as the real identity of taxpayer groups. Any gadfly who wonders why a taxpayer organization wants to increase taxes can research it and expose it through social media.
Done! The California Tax Reform Association – of course – is yet another union front group. In 2012, 60 percent of its revenue came from these unions:
Still not sure? Here is the 2012 board of directors for the California Tax Reform Association:
The group hasn’t posted on its web site since May 23, 2012. That’s one highly-credible source! But it’s a convenient one, and deceiving too.
A lesson for citizens: just because an organization calls itself a taxpayers’ group does not necessarily mean it doesn’t want to raise your taxes or control government spending. Plenty of union money and personnel are being used to undermine one of the last defenses of fiscal responsibility in California. Check every group carefully and expose the union control to the public when you find it.
Lack of Leadership a Big Obstacle in Updating Prop. 13 – column by George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times – January 29, 2014
Real Taxpayers’ Associations
Union-Backed Taxpayers’ Associations
Middle Class Taxpayers Association
Builder Decries Loss of Oversight Members: SWC Board Replaced Two on Prop. R Committee over the Summer – Southwestern College Sun newspaper – October 7, 2011
Breaking: Labor Corruption…SD Labor Council Seeks to Oust Taxpayer Advocate from Oversight Committee – posted on San Diego Rostra by Ryan Purdy – July 12, 2011
California Tax Reform Association
Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.