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WE’RE ALL MAD HERE

Jon Coupal, President, Howard Jarvis Tapayers Association

October 26, 2009

[Publisher's Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from Jon Coupal. Coupal is the President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association - Flash]

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When the Cheshire Cat told Alice, “We’re all mad here,” he could have been expressing how two of California’s most prominent officials view voters.
In a recent San Francisco speech, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told  a group of educators that the term limits law –- Proposition 140 approved by voters in 1990 -- was “crazy.”

Voters knew exactly what they were doing when they approved term limits.  They wanted to put an end to having an imperial state government dominated for decades by the same handful of legislative leaders who had been elected by a fraction of California voters.  They wanted to change a system in which the status of its leaders more closely resembled a monarchy than a representative democracy.

However, our governor, who swept into office promising to “blow up the boxes” and reform Sacramento, allowed himself to become co-opted by the system, especially after losing his reform agenda at the polls in 2005.  Further eschewing his populist mandate, last year he endorsed Proposition 93, term limits “reform” that would have “grandfathered” a handful of newfound powerful friends allowing them to serve an addition term.  Again, the voters showed they were serious about limiting politician’s time in office by voting “no.”

Still, this expression of disrespect for the voters by a lame duck governor, who has become known for saying one thing and doing another, while flitting from one issue to the next, is of small consequence.

More unsettling is the disdain for the voters’ judgment shown by our sitting California Chief Justice Ron George.  Recently, George traveled to Massachusetts to tell the American Academy of Arts and Sciences that the initiative process is responsible for California’s “dysfunctional state government.”   He warned of the “dangers of direct democracy” and said “California’s lawmakers, and the state itself, have been placed in a fiscal straitjacket by a steep two-thirds vote imposed at the ballot box for raising taxes.”

Although George misstated the law – state taxes require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and are not required to be placed on the ballot – his hostility to this taxpayer protection provided by Proposition 13 is clear. 

Even more alarming is the timing of the justice’s remarks because there is a case currently pending before the California Supreme Court involving the interpretation of the two-thirds vote requirement for state taxes under Proposition 13 (California Farm Bureau Federation v. State Water Resources Control Board).  That case has been fully briefed and is currently awaiting oral argument.  As a matter of course, members of the judiciary rarely make public statements regarding cases before them that they have yet to resolve.  

The initiative process was placed into our state constitution a hundred years ago so that the public could take action when lawmakers proved indolent, incompetent or corrupt.  In the late 1970s, when people were losing their homes due to double digit annual tax increases, and the Legislature refused to act, the voters used the power of the initiative to qualify Proposition 13 to limit annual increases in property taxes.  To prevent lawmakers from arbitrarily using other means to reach into taxpayers pockets, the measure required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve state tax hikes, a threshold that was achieved in 1991 and in February of this year.

Without the initiative process, taxpayers would be stripped naked of protection and find themselves totally at the mercy of those in government who have shown themselves more concerned about their status and perks and rewarding their friends than in serving the public.

Those in government who question the citizens’ wisdom in the use of the initiative process should take note.  Voters are not crazy, but as Howard Jarvis would say,  “We are mad as hell” and if we need to go back to the intiative to make corrections to state government, we will.
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The mission statement of the
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assocation reads:

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers' rights including the right to limited taxation, the right to vote on tax increases and the right of economical, equitable and efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Accomplished taxpayer advocate and prominent attorney Jon Coupal, as President of the HJTA, heads up an organization that plays a critical role here in the Golden State . Beginning with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the HJTA has consistently been the lead organization looking out for the rights of California taxpayers. In literally EVERY major battle that occurs in Sacramento, where the forces of irresponsible government growth are trying to figure out another scheme to raise taxes or fees to redistribute taxpayer funds to the latest 'must fund' program, Jon and the HJTA are there to ask the tough questions, and to wave a big stick. You see, the HJTA doesn't just talk the talk. Whether leading efforts to get their many, many grassroots members to lobby their elected officials, going to court to fight illegal tax increases, or marshaling resources to take tax-protection measures to the electorate, HJTA has been there. But not just on a statewide level, but also at the local level -- fighting against local bond measures and fee-increase schemes that seek to unduly and unfairly burden taxpayers.

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You can write to Jon Coupal (via the FR) here.

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