First came the threat from the Trump administration that California sanctuary cities would no longer receive federal money if the cities defied U.S. immigration policy. Next, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown said California officials are considering ways to withhold tax revenue from the federal government. “California could very well become an organized non-payer,” he said.

In response, former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly wrote a scolding article detailing how California would come out the worse in such a battle. The idea of withholding taxes to protest policy has escalated. In the Flash Report blog, the headline over a link to Donnelly’s column read: Let’s Stop Paying CA Taxes!

Tax resistance is not new in this country. In fact, the United States became a country because of tax resistance beginning with the 1765 stamp tax. (Ironically, the U.S. government currently issues a First Class Forever stamp to commemorate, of all things, repeal of the Stamp Act.)


Within memory of those who lived through the Vietnam War, there was a movement by “war tax resisters” to defy the government’s war policy by withholding federal taxes.

But most tax resistance against war, stamps, or even Whiskey during the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion came from individuals. It is rare to see a government like California’s resisting policies by withholding taxes or disobeying federal law. I suppose South Carolina’s nullification of federal laws because of anger over the Tariff of 1828 qualifies. President Andrew Jackson threatened to send in federal troops to force obedience but the disagreement was resolved peacefully.

Is it telling that President Trump chose to place a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office?

Escalation of the divide between California’s elected leaders and Washington might extend to resistance from some citizens.  If residents of California see that state officials defy federal policy and refuse to forward tax revenue will that be read as a signal that it is okay for California residents who oppose state policy to withhold taxes as that headline suggests–Let’s Stop Paying CA Taxes! If a few do so they go to jail. If thousands do so the government is disrupted.

This escalation could get out of hand. Leaders and citizens alike must be careful. As John Adams said, the American ideal is that we are “a nation of laws, not of men.”