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Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner

When Your Only Tool is a Hammer

Recently, the Assembly passed a bill touted by Democrats as giving another “tool” to local government in the fight against a particular problem. But it wasn’t another tool; it was the same old tool, the right of government to raise fees on its citizens, to be wielded yet again.

I rose to oppose the bill, not because the underlying cause was unworthy, but merely to point out this uninspired approach to the problem. It seems, I said, that the only “tool” the Legislature ever uses is the tool of hammering people with increased fees and taxes. Perhaps, when your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails. But legislators have other tools available to us, if only we also had the political courage to use them.

Unfortunately, we don’t. Bills to reduce regulations on businesses, to rein in frivolous lawsuits, to create jobs, to otherwise grow revenue by growing the economy and putting people to work, all routinely die in the Legislature. The ruling party is constitutionally incapable of grabbing from the toolbox anything but the hammer.

The debilitating effect of this single-minded effort to increase the costs of government ironically was seen the same day this legislative debate took place. Several press accounts that morning reported the unsurprising fact that state revenue is coming in well below projections. Unsurprising, I say, because my GOP colleagues and I have been saying for months that the rosy economic forecasts would not be realized. Indeed, the State Controller’s office has confirmed our warnings.

And what tool does the Sacramento ruling party want to use to fix this problem? That’s right; they have pulled out the hammer. The Governor and the Democrats would like to raise your taxes.

But wait. Is the problem really a nail? The answer clearly is “no.” In 2011, when the last round of tax increases finally expired, over the wailing and gnashing of Democrat teeth, we found that the economy actually grew and the state took in more than the Democrats had warned. We did not take in enough to meet the Democrats’ profligate spending levels, and they refused to cut where and as much as Republicans insisted. We also did not take in enough to meet their aforementioned forecasts needed to balance the budget so the Legislature could get paid. But we took in more.

Insanity has famously been defined as doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Hammering on the productive people has not worked. It is time to look to other tools. Let’s cut government. Let’s reduce regulations. Let’s end costly frivolous lawsuits. Let’s make our Labor, Tax, and Education Codes simpler, fairer, more business friendly.

In short, we need to use some tools that won’t just hammer the taxpayers.