For most of us money is a means to an end, that of living – keeping food on the table, a roof overhead, paying the utility bills, clothing and educating the kids. If we’ve planned well and are lucky we have enough to put away for retirement and spend on some extras – electronics, meals out, travel, tickets to concerts, plays and sporting events.
However, for many of those elected to serve in the Capitol, money is power, and that power is consolidated by imposing more and more tax increases. Taxpayer dollars enable spending on programs you and I may not support but that give politicians clout within the communities receiving the benefits. We see spending on fancy new government buildings or millions of dollars to house the art collection of a comedian Cheech Marin from Cheech and Chong (yes really).
The spending with taxpayers’ dollars, builds influence with the groups benefiting, and that influence gets the legislative majority re-elected, enabling them to increase ever more taxes so they can spend ever more taxpayer dollars on ever more pet programs, in perpetuity. It’s an endless circle.
The amount of tax and fee increases proposed each year is staggering. According to the California Tax Foundation, $273 billion in taxes and fees were proposed in 2018, another $20.4 billion in 2019, and almost $83 billion in 2020. Except for this year, 2020, the year of COVID, all the tax- and fee-increase proposals came during a time when California had consecutive record-high budgets, robust reserves and operating budget surpluses.
I was elected to the State Senate in a special election directly following the passage of the largest gas tax increase in history. You told me to serve as your taxpayer advocate, working to block unnecessary taxes and save taxpayer dollars.
During my very first months in the Senate, I helped stop the proposed cell phone tax. That bill would have increased the existing cell phone tax and expanded it to all phone and data lines, for an overall tax increase to consumers of almost 600% per month. At that time, the state was running a $9 billion surplus, so why did the majority feel the need to increase taxes?
Also as your taxpayer advocate, I coauthored a bill (AB 162) prohibiting the unelected members of the Public Utilities Commission from taxing text messages. The same politicians that wanted to increase your cell phone taxes stopped this bill from moving forward.
Even out of session, the tax-and-fee gang work to increase your taxes, this time through Proposition 15 on the November ballot, which would break Proposition 13 wide open, increasing property taxes on businesses small and large. If passed it could cost Californians as much as $11 billion in direct and indirect costs.
My antipathy for the endless parade of tax and fee proposals is not because I don’t support their goals. In fact, the goals for the revenues are usually for things I support, like better roads and schools, clean water, etc. However, even though California is one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation, when you take into account the cost of living California has the highest poverty rate. Truly, spending isn’t the problem; it’s that all the spending is not being prioritized properly. At all.
Seriously, why are we throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into the high-speed rail project every year while putting comparative pennies into forest management? Why is the Secretary of State scrambling to give a $35 million contract for “nonpartisan voter outreach” to a firm that is overtly partisan when the contract isn’t even necessary because every voter is already getting a ballot in the mail?
We have a massive deficit this year and anticipate worse next year, and these are just a few examples of the poor fiscal management that contributes to the incessant turning of the screws for more taxes. We can’t keep leaning on hard-working Californians to bleed themselves dry so legislators in Sacramento can keep raising taxes, spend more and more money and consolidate their power even further.
It’s well past time to find real solutions to the states’ needs, solutions that don’t simply count on raising taxes every time a liberal legislator wants to spend more. Especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, Californians can’t afford that type of solution anymore.