In the commentary "How many voters does it take to raise a tax?" (Viewpoints, Jan. 12), government lawyer Michael Colantuono proposed that Democrats in the state Legislature take advantage of their new two-thirds majority to make sweeping changes to California's tax laws.
As you try to cope with less take-home pay thanks to the "fiscal cliff" deal and Proposition 30 in November, you may be saying, "Darn right! We need sweeping changes to reduce taxes in California!"
If that's where you thought Colantuono was headed, you're wrong. Despite the fact that California now has the highest sales taxes and highest income taxes in America, Colantuono wants Democrats to change California's tax laws to make it easier to raise taxes even higher.
He laments that voter-approved initiatives such as Proposition 13 and its progeny give taxpayers the right to vote on tax increases. "Election requirements slow government," he complains. And because voters reject some tax increases, "Government must make choices" since "there will never be enough money to fund everything we want." The obvious inference is that we would be better off if government could escape making choices and give everyone what they want by swiftly and easily raising taxes without voters having any say.
The problem with Colantuono's logic is that every dollar added to the government's budget is a dollar taken from the family budget. Sure, if politicians had authority to hike taxes without voter approval, they could avoid making hard choices and give their friends everything they want, but they would be simply shifting the burden to taxpaying families to make hard choices and have less of what they want or, more often, need.
Highly paid government leaders and their lawyers cannot relate to ordinary citizen taxpayers. They think that, based on their own circumstances, everyone can afford to give a little more. The truth is that many more people than we realize have nothing at all left to give.
If Democrats can't completely repeal the people's right to vote on taxes, Colantuono suggests, the next best thing would be to "simplify" the percentage of votes needed to pass tax increases. By "simplify" he means, let all tax increases pass with a simple majority vote.
But the two-thirds vote requirement for many local taxes is there for a reason. Because the power to tax is governments' most draconian power, it makes a great deal of sense to subject it to supermajority approval by those financially obligated to pay it. Remember that the two-thirds vote is mandated 12 times in the United States Constitution for those major policy decisions for which a broader consensus is warranted.
Perhaps that's the answer. Instead of jettisoning the two-thirds vote and replacing it with simple majority vote requirements, we should do the opposite. Given that California now has the highest taxes in America, let's submit any new proposal to add to that burden to a two-thirds vote requirement. After all, that was the original intent of Proposition 13.