Let’s have a Clear Election on Taxes

Tony Quinn
Editor, California Target Book

Can Proposition 25 be used to place a tax increase on the June special election ballot? Joel Fox argues today (January 13) that it cannot. I think it can and should.

Proposition 25 allows the budget to be passed by a majority vote of the legislature. It does not change the requirement of a two thirds vote to increase taxes. Placing the question of increasing taxes before the voters is different; the voters not the legislature will be increasing taxes.

Gov. Brown is unwilling to cut the budget by $20 billion plus, the kind of cuts that are necessary to balance the budget without a tax increase. Instead he has a number of questionable cuts (like Medical that may depend on a favorable Supreme Court ruling) and Schwarzenegger-style funding shifts (like transferring First Five money and Proposition 63 money to the general fund).

And none of this will work without about $12 billion in additional revenues that Brown can only get by extending the 2009 car tax, sales tax and income tax increases. And that requires a vote of the people.

Well, let him try. Let’s have a clean, partisan debate about the budget – no “rainy day fund” gimmicks like we had in the 2009 special election, no “bipartisan” cover. Ask the voters: do you want to raise your taxes to balance the budget, or not?

Supposedly Brown needs Republican votes to place this issue before the voters in June, but that’s not really true. He could wait until 2012 for his tax increase vote, but that would mean passing a cuts only budget in 2011. Democrats will not do that. And Democrats don’t believe the voters will restore the 2009 taxes once they expire, so they need their election in June before the taxes expire.

Republicans are being asked to help Brown out of this political fix, but there is no reason they should do so. They are opposed to the tax increase; they ought to campaign against it, and let the voters decide.

For tax opponents to argue that a two thirds vote is necessary to put this question to the voters is to admit that Republicans need to vote for it; or come up with a budget themselves with $20 billion in cuts. They are planning to do neither; why should they.

This is the debate we should have had in 2010, instead of arguing about Meg Whitman’s housekeeper or Jerry Brown’s age. So let’s have in 2011. The Democrats want this tax increase, let them call the election with a partisan vote and give the voters a clean and clear choice.

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