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Jon Fleischman

Broken Promises of Cogdill, Villines Costly To California Taxpayers

I wrote the following oped for the Fresno Bee which runs today.  You can see it online here (free sign up required).  I submitted in response to a column penned by the Bee’s Opinion Page Editor Jim Boren entitled, Cogdill, Villines Did Right Thing.  Boren’s praise for the "courage" of former Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill and Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines in helping to orchestrate a budget deal that included the largest tax increase in state history warranted a rebuttal…  It is imperative that readers understand that the Republican Party opposes tax increases.

Broken Promises of Cogdill, Villines Costly To California Taxpayers
By Jon Fleischman

Republican State Senator Dave Cogdill and Assemblyman Mike Villines recently orchestrated and voted for a state budget “deal” that included the largest tax increase in the history of this state.

They did this after months of making it clear that they not only opposed any tax increases on Californians in response to state government’s over-spending created fiscal crisis, but both had eloquently and frequently made the case for why increasing tax increases is terrible public policy.  They were both right. 

Yet both of these politicians, who ran for office voluntarily signing a pledge not to raise taxes, broke their promises, and delivered higher taxes to all of us.  And not that there is really any good excuse for doing that, but these two cannot even point to the kind of meaningful reforms in state government that you would expect the Democrats to offer up in return for Republicans votes for massive income, sales and car taxes that will, if Cogdill and Villines they get their way, cost every family California an average of well over $4,000.  Recently, despite this deal, it was announced that California government already has developed yet another budget shortfall of nearly $10 billion!  Amazingly even with higher taxes, our state legislature couldn’t solve our state’s financial woes.

Both of these gentlemen will tell you that they are proud of the so-called spending limit that will be before voters next month as Proposition 1A on the ballot.  But what they will not be quick to tell you is that they voted for legislation that would enact $16 billion more in sales, income and car taxes if the measure passes, and that they are part of a back-room deal to try to keep voters ignorant of the tax implications of a yes vote.  And they also will not tell you that in order to accommodate the state’s political powerful public employee unions, the actual language of the limit is so vague as to have created massive disagreement about its effectiveness, and the measure has garnered the opposition of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the National Tax Limitation Committee.

In this budget deal there were no substantive reductions in the state’s workforce, to mirror the downsizing taking place in the private sector.  There was no pension reform – moving from lavish retirement guarantees for state workers to a 401K type programs like non-public employees enjoy.  There was no end to all of the automatic cost of living adjustments and auto-pilot spending increases that obligate state government to higher spending each year..  And, of course, the state continues to spend billions on services for who are not even legal residents of the United States.  And as for spending cuts, Cogdill and Villines are asking you to vote for Proposition 1B, which would actually restore a majority of those cuts in future years.

While there were some easing of regulations and tax breaks for large corporations in this deal (and believe me, in this state, there is no level of business that isn’t over taxed and over-regulated), the idea that those items took place at the expense of new massive broad-based taxes on every California family and most small businesses makes it hard to herald this as some sort of policy victory.  I can’t dismiss this vision of California tax collectors taking money out of my family budget, keeping most of it, and handing some of it straight to big companies.

Looking at what these two have done through the partisan lens of a party official, I am very concerned because the no taxes pledge is a very important tool that the Republican Party uses in elections.  By taking that pledge, our candidates present an important contrast to the big spending ways, and higher taxes that are largely advocated by our Democrat opponents.  How will our GOP candidates win elections if the electorate sees those pledges as cynical attempts to manipulate popular opinion?  Why should voters of any party, who think that government is too big and their tax burden too high, vote for a Republican on the strength of a mere promise, if when they are made they aren’t kept?

In the end, Cogdill and Villines will have to deal with their own consciences concerning their broken promise. Cogdill will have to explain it to voters as he apparently plans to seek reelection. Villines is forced from office by term limits, but at one point was rumored to be thinking about a run for higher office.  If so, he will have an uphill battle to convince voters that his word means something.  Unfortunately, though, we all are going to have to deal with the legacy of their broken pledge – which is higher taxes for all of us, and an emboldened stance by the public employee unions that control politics in California, who got the better of taxpayers once again.

Jon Fleischman is publisher of the FlashReport Website on California Politics and is an elected Regional Vice Chairman of the California Republican Party.

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