Early Saturday morning, after midnight, the California legislature ended its regular session, and two special sessions. Despite an immense amount of pressure on them from the Governor, their Democrat colleagues, and powerful special interests – Republicans held the line and successfully stopped billions of dollars in proposed tax increases from being enacted.
I spoke with California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte, who was very pleased with this outcome, saying, “All of our Republican legislators, unified, stopped tens of billions of dollars in tax increases introduced by the other party dead in their tracks. I’m proud of our legislators, and their commitment to protecting the people of California from excessive taxation.”
As well he should be. Last year, arguably on the verge of political irrelevance, California Republicans rallied – belied expectations – and clawed their way out of “super minority” status. The practical effect of this was that there are now enough GOP legislators, just barely, to block a tax increase, which takes a two-thirds vote of both the State Senate and State Assembly. In a remarkable show of teamwork and solidarity the GOP held together, and all of these tax increase proposals were stymied.
It is not unusual for Democrats to propose new or higher taxes – in fact it is a consistent behavior – but this year, under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown, they took it to a new level. Democrats literally excluded funding for basic maintenance for existing roads, highways, bridges and more. After “shorting” transportation, literally upon signing the budget, Brown demanded that the legislature pass new taxes to fund these essential infrastructure needs. It is worthy of note that this “political blackmail” play took place as state revenues are at their highest, and the state budget just signed was the largest ever. The plan: shame GOP legislators into raising taxes by presenting them a Hobson’s choice of either raising taxes or not funding a vital function of government. Republicans rejected this cynical ploy by the majority party.
“The whole notion that Republicans could be pressured into voting for billions of dollars in new taxes when state revenues are at an all-time high was preposterous from the beginning,” said State Senator Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) in an interview earlier today. “It was reckless for Democrats to refuse to fund transportation infrastructure in their partisan state budget, and to then reject all of our Republican proposals to rectify that poor decision.”
Back in 2009, faced with similar pressures to raise taxes, Republican legislative leaders made a different choice, delivering the necessary votes for what, at the time, was the largest tax increase in state history. That didn’t work out well for anyone. Californians were stiffed with billions of dollars in additional taxes, and the GOP entered into a season of fratricide, seeing both of their legislative leaders dumped by their colleagues, and internal bickering that, predictably, played a role in subsequent GOP losses.
This year, the GOP took the opposite tack, rejecting calls for creating an even bigger state government, and now are poised to build on their modest electoral successes of last year. The explicit (implicit by some) promise of Republican legislators, as they campaigned, to oppose new and higher taxes for Californians was kept.
During this legislative session I spoke with virtually every Republican legislator. These sentiments told to me by freshman Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach) after the session ended were indicative of those of his GOP colleagues: “Last November California voters ended the Democrat legislative supermajorities, which returned some adult supervision to the Capitol when it comes to approving higher taxes, which take a two-thirds vote,” Harper told me after the end of session. “Republicans stayed unified in opposing tax increases because Californian’s are over-taxed already. California government has record-levels of tax receipts coming in the door — we don’t have a revenue problem — except that taxes are too high.”
Mark Twain famously said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe when the legislature is in session.”
Nowhere is that more true than here in California. And while there are scores of pretty ugly bills that are on the way to Governor Brown’s desk, where he must choose whether to sign or veto them over the next month, not amongst them are any of the massive tax increases he had hoped to sign.
[This column originally appeared on Breitbart California here.]