This post-legislative period is shaping up as the great California initiative poker game – with taxpayers’ money as the chips.
The California Teachers Association was the first to the table with a measure to extend Proposition 30 by keeping its income tax hike on the wealthy in place for 12 more years after it was scheduled to expire in 2018. A week later, the California Hospital Association, Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and Common Sense Kids Action played their hand: “I’ll see your $7 billion annual tax increase on Proposition 30 for 12 years and raise it to $10 billion a year, not for a dozen years, but forever!”
The unions are not the only ones at the table.
A coalition of anti-poverty advocates just received the title and summary on the “Lifting Children and Families Out of Poverty Act,” which would place a tax surcharge on properties valued at more than $3 million, costing taxpayers $6 billion to $7 billion a year for 20 years. (Why should we believe in any temporary taxes after the promises made about Proposition 30?)
With all these initiatives, you can hear that constant refrain from Helen Lovejoy, the minister’s wife on the long-running television sitcom “The Simpsons”: “What about the children! Won’t somebody please think of the children?”
Notice how the unions and organizations that would benefit from the tax revenue play the “children’s card” at this poker table. According to the titles they place on their measures, they are raising taxes for schoolchildren, or investing in California children or lifting children out of poverty. And while they’re at it, the proponents are making sure union members and advocacy groups are well funded.
Advocates for more tax revenue believe now is the time to strike because the number of signatures necessary for qualifying a measure for the ballot is at a low point, the result of the low voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election.
Perhaps more importantly, the voter pool for the 2016 presidential election is projected to be friendlier to tax increases because of the relative higher percentage of Democrats and those who are not often engaged in public affairs.
But perhaps a larger question hangs over those gambling on the 2016 election – and like it or not, taxpayers are part of that gamble: Have changes in California’s demographics and political makeup over the past few years changed voters’ attitudes toward raising taxes?
Some believe that the success of Proposition 30 in 2012 was the beginning of a new trend in California politics. Gone are the days touched off by the Proposition 13 tax revolt with voters solidly opposed to statewide tax increases. Or at least that is what these gamblers are betting on.
But will voters be sympathetic, especially if there are so many tax initiatives on the ballot?
The measures mentioned here might not be the only ones that want to take advantage of the low signature threshold. There is talk of an initiative to raise property taxes on commercial property and another to tax oil removed from the ground. There is talk of increases in cigarette taxes and alcohol taxes.
All the emphasis on raising taxes ignores another avenue to lift families out of poverty and fund state programs – make California more business friendly, encourage entrepreneurship and job creation. Fewer people will live in poverty and more taxpayers will pour revenue into government.
In truth, the real gamble at this initiative poker game is not whether the voters will say yes to tax increases, but if under this tax increase onslaught, taxpayers and businesses will start thinking about giving up on California.
Joel Fox is president of the Small Business Action Committee and co-publisher and editor of FoxandHoundsDaily.com, which carries commentaries on California business and politics.