From the Brown Papers: Burton, Federal Taxes and Mosquitoes

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

John Burton now leads the California Democratic Party. In 1978, he was a member of Congress. The day after Prop 13 passed that June, he took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a one-minute statement, which I found in Gov. Jerry Brown’s briefing papers on Prop 13:

"Mr. Speaker, the people of California voted on a proposition yesterday that will have the effect of sending at least $700 or $800 million more to the Federal Treasury. They voted out of their disgust for the 8 years of the Reagan administration out there, which raised the taxes by better than $2.7 billion and never addressed the property tax relief problem.

"Mr. Speaker, I would just ask, as we sit here today, to have a moment of silence for those who live in mosquito abatement districts in California, because they have just been wiped out and all of the money will go to the State capitol, where Gov. Jerry Brown in 2 weeks will stand with Howard Jarvis and say, ‘I knew we could do it.’"

A note on context: Burton was right about federal taxes going up as a result of Prop 13. By cutting their own property taxes, Californians also voted to lower their federal deductions-thus forcing them to pay more in taxes. (What’s clear from the papers is that California politicians were working behind the scenes in Washington – mostly unsuccessfully – to argue for federal help in mitigating the impact of Prop 13. Their argument was that the state deserved this since its citizens would be paying more in federal taxes as a result.

And the mosquito abatement districts? These districts, which originated with early 20th century anti-malaria campaigns, were among parts of government (library districts were another) that relied overwhelmingly on property taxes. The districts downsized after Prop 13 but are still around.


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