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James V. Lacy

Is California due for a political shift in 2014?


Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Visalia has summed up the obvious problem presented by California’s tax, spending, and regulatory policy: “(o)ur excessive tax and regulatory burden is killing businesses and driving them to other states.”  People have two ways to vote: at the ballot box, and with their feet.  At the last November ballot, Californians accepted the invitation of liberal Democrats and enacted the largest state income tax in the country.  The result today is 1,700,000 unemployed residents, twice as many unemployed as five years ago.  And the liberal Democrats and their special interest allies in control of the state have managed to add even more to the average Californian’s tax burden, enacting in the meantime the highest tax on gasoline at the pump.  They are moving forward dozens more of tax increase bills in the Legislature.  No wonder so many businesses and high-income individuals are fleeing the state.  They are voting with their feet between elections.

Liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger is credited with the development of the so-called “cyclical theory” that describes fluctuations in American politics as a continuing shift that occurs when politics get out of balance.  According to the theory, when one extreme of the political debate gets too much control, the public rises up and corrects the balance by a shift in political outlook and mood toward the other side of the debate.  The cycle and balance is seen as necessary to the health of political institutions.  At the extremes, political issues arise that can “detonate,” or cause the shift in the other direction to begin to occur.

Taxes and government regulation are far too oppressive in California today, and the special interests groups that support them have too much control.  Their policies are wrecking the state economy.  Applying Schlesinger’s theory to California, it seems the state could be at the verge of a political mood shift, as voters can’t help but take notice.

For example, there have been other times in California’s history when taxes topped those in other states, and anger about them came to a boiling point among voters, and even gained national attention – most notably the passage of the historic Proposition 13 real-property tax cut in 1978, when 4.2 million Californians, nearly 66% of the electorate, voted to cut their property taxes by 57%.  Proposition 13 can be seen as “detonating” a tax revolt against the big spending liberals of that era.   The adoption of the measure not only had national ramifications with the election of California’s Governor Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, but also served to propel Republican candidates into 16 years of continuous control of the Governorship of the state from 1982-1998.

But 35 years have passed since California voters famously decided to cut their taxes, and in the meantime the taxation pendulum in the last decades has decidedly shifted in the opposite direction and may be stuck there.  California’s taxes rank near the top of all states in almost every category.  Even real property taxes, with all Proposition 13’s protections, rank higher than average nationwide per capita.  Underfunded pension liabilities, local government bankruptcies, a broken educational system, all the work of liberal Democrats in control, pose more-and-more a threat to the economic health of the state.  Could they be the cause of a “detonating” event that might cause a significant political shift in 2014?  According to the theory of “cycles” in American politics, to an alert and engaged public, they could very well ignite the fuse.