Whither the Tax Revolt?

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

Last autumn, I wondered both in a Wall Street Journal article and a Los Angeles Times piece if California’s tax revolt is dead. Given all the taxes that were passed by voters on the state and local level, the question was worth pondering.

Now, the legislature has thrown its opinion into the mix by passing a $52 billion transportation tax and fee package.

Even more tax measures are circulating under the capitol dome. There is a liquor tax proposal and another to increase income tax on high earners. The group of top income taxpayers have been targeted over the last dozen years, first to fund mental health programs, then to raise revenue for schools, followed by extending the school tax to fund both schools and Medi-Cal.

This time the millionaire’s tax is proposed to fund free college education. The fact that taxes have to be raised to fund “free” education is more than ironic but proves the point that nothing is free, somebody pays.

The tax happy legislators are not through with other tax increase proposals waiting in the wings, including a property tax increase for commercial property that will soon be introduced.

One can argue we are nearing the tipping point where voters will rise up against excessive taxes. Already, there has been an effort announced to recall one freshman Democratic legislator who won a close race in November and supported the gas tax increase. I’ve been told by the staffer of another Democratic legislator that the district office phone has been ringing off the hook with complaints about the transportation tax increase.

Whether more taxes will get out of the legislature is uncertain. If a tax increase does clear the legislature there is a good chance Governor Jerry Brown will kick it aside like a hockey goalie protecting the net.

Brown, famous for his rowing-on-the-left, rowing-on-the-right style of governing is mindful it is time to switch the paddle. His purposeful silence was a plus for the success of the Proposition 55 income tax extension and he spent a lot of political capitol in passing the gas tax and car fees.

Brown’s been through one tax revolt and that is enough for him. He will try to keep from reaching the tipping point of another tax revolt but there are other forces at work determined to wring more from the taxpayers and chop down the tax revolt ideal.

Is the tax revolt dead? It is under pressure, but as that pressure to raise more taxes continues to build expect the tax revolt mantra to rise again.

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