Politics & Policy

Voters Say No to New Taxes…

...even on the Left Coast.

When it comes to raising taxes, what part of “no” don’t the politicians understand?

In the case of every ballot initiative in the last two years that has called for taxpayers to make the “sacrifice” of paying higher taxes, voters responded with not just a “no,” but a “hell no.” That string of victories for the anti-tax activists was lengthened this week when Californians voted 60-40 against a measure to gut Proposition 13.

This should not have been a surprise, because every pro-tax ballot initiative goes up in smoke.

In Alabama, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington State voters have recently–and soundly–rejected new taxes. It’s particularly striking that the latest snub to higher taxes comes from the folks on the Left Coast in California. Now, California has always been considered by most in Middle America to be a little quacky. In many ways it has pursued policies that would lead one to believe that this is the most left-leaning of states. And that reputation has certainly been enhanced in the past few weeks with the gay-marriage ceremonies that are all the rage in San Francisco. This is a state where the legislature recently approved a measure to give “equal rights” to transvestites. There is also a movement in Sacramento to unilaterally sign the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty, the one that would put hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work.

But on taxes, Californians have never wavered in their opposition–putting them closer to the rest of America than one might think.

The latest rejection of the sneaky Proposition 56 signals that, even after 25 years, and even after the Left’s ceaseless attacks against the devastation to schools, public safety, and government services allegedly caused by Prop. 13, the voters aren’t buying it. I say that 56 was “sneaky” because its advocates sold it as a populist method to require “accountability” of the legislature on fiscal issues. It would have said that politicians won’t get paid if they don’t pass a budget (a good idea!). But it also sought to gut the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes, replacing it with a slimmer 55-percent majority. Since the Democrats control more than 60 percent of both houses, this would have given the party of Gray Davis and Willie Brown free rein to raise taxes through the roof.

If Prop. 56 had been in place last year, it is likely that nearly all the proposed $65 billion in taxes and fees proposed by the state Democrats would have been passed into law.

It would have also allowed the Democrats to approve pork-filled budgets without a single Republican vote. Given that the state faces the biggest deficit in the history of the states, even most Democratic voters realized this would be about as advisable as allowing Janet Jackson to appear on Sesame Street. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation ridiculed the measure as the “Blank Check Initiative.” A state wading in red ink can hardly afford to be writing blank checks.

In some ways it is astonishing that after 25 years, Proposition 13 is still regarded as sacrosanct among California voters. I guess Californians recognize that this tax-restraint measure is all that stands between the Golden State and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Back in 1978, the Los Angeles Times described the Proposition 13 movement as “a group of angry and disgruntled taxpayers across the state who believe they are paying too much for the cost of government.” That was indeed the essence of the Prop. 13 revolt: After years of uninterrupted expansion in the size and arrogance of the government bureaucracy, Americans no longer believed that government was giving them their money’s worth.

And they believe that less so today than ever. The California budget rose nearly 40 percent in Gray Davis’s reign of fiscal terror, and it will take Arnold Schwarzenegger years to dig out of the hole. Californians get that. This is why Arnold was able to convince voters that a $15-billion revenue bond was necessary to buy time to fix the roof on a very leaky house.

In this taxaphobic environment, John Kerry is promising one of the biggest tax increases in American history, pledging to repeal most portions of the Bush tax cut. This is why John Kerry will never be president. He doesn’t understand that “no” means “no.”

–Stephen Moore is the president of the Club for Growth.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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