Friday, June 18, 2004
CALIFORNIA COMMENTARY (Column)
Reagan Was Proposition 13 Supporter Number One
By JON COUPAL
(The writer is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.)
With the passing of our 40th president, we are again reminded that if a list were made of Proposition 13 supporters, Ronald Reagan would rank number one.
Proposition 13 and the presidency of Ronald Reagan are tied together like the moon and the tides. One had a mighty pull on the other.
Proposition 13 would be to the Reagan Revolution what the Battles of Lexington and Concord were to the American Revolution. It was the first shot and it brought Reagan’s ideas of lower taxes and smaller government into clear focus, built up momentum, and steered the candidate toward victory.
Reagan became nationally known as a champion of limited government as he campaigned for presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964. However, after assuming the governorship of California two years later, he soon found himself confronted with a very real problem: a legacy of overspending carried out by the previous administration.
Today, those who would like to see California raise taxes to make up for the reckless spending during the Gray Davis years, relish pointing out that Governor Reagan oversaw one of the largest tax increases in the history of the state to cover a shortfall created by the deficit spending of his predecessor. However, Reagan’s tax increases led to other problems, which he later acknowledged and tried to correct with tax cuts. As early as 1973 Reagan tried to rein in taxing and spending with his Proposition 1, but a massive outcry by other elected officials, public employees, bureaucrats, and most of the state’s daily newspapers succeeded in derailing this tax cut at the ballot box.
As a result, Californians continued to pay unjustifiably high taxes and by 1978 the reserve had grown to $6 billion, an astronomical amount—some called it “obscene”—when the entire state budget was only $15 billion.
When Howard Jarvis succeeded in qualifying Proposition 13 for the ballot, Reagan was only too happy to jump in as a leading proponent.
Reagan used both his radio program and his newspaper column as “bully pulpits” to promote tax relief. In a radio broadcast on February 20, 1978, he told his listeners, “If you live in California you know by now that the sky is scheduled to fall on June 6....Who do we have to thank for these timely warnings? None other than the good folks who brought you record-breaking public budgets, burgeoning bureaucracies and ever-higher taxes.”
The former governor not only defended the initiative against outlandish attacks, he went on the offensive arguing the benefits of Proposition 13. In a speech before the Independent Petroleum Association of America in San Francisco two weeks before the election, Reagan said Proposition 13 would “not only be beneficial to the business climate, but also to the people of California.”
Reagan’s commitment to the Proposition 13 tax cut was on full display when he agreed to voice a radio commercial for the measure. Reagan defended home ownership as being a big part of the American Dream. He said the dream could be lost to the elderly or renters or many others because of high property taxes. Reagan concluded the spot with the words: “Vote Yes on Proposition 13—for the American Dream.”
Proposition 13’s victory was the green light Reagan was hoping for in pushing his ideas on controlling federal taxes and spending. Limited government was a new mantra heard across the land. Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign economic advisor Martin Anderson said of the landslide vote on Proposition 13, “The idea of cutting taxes was no longer a theory. A referendum on cutting taxes had been put before the people and they supported it overwhelmingly.”
Upon election as president, Reagan was determined to follow the California example with an across the board tax cut and he succeeded in getting Congressional approval. A few years later, Howard Jarvis attended a luncheon speech given by the president in Los Angeles. When Jarvis returned to his office and was asked how the speech went, he responded, “When the president said, ‘What we’re trying to do in Washington is in the spirit of Proposition 13,’ the buttons nearly popped off my vest.”
Reagan’s tax cuts resulted in one of the longest periods of sustained economic growth in our nation’s history.
In 1992, when Reagan addressed a meeting of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, he again displayed the essence of his philosophy when it came to tax cutting—it was not merely about saving money: “As we pass along our hard earned freedoms to each new generation, we must also pass along the will to fight to preserve them. When you and your fellow Californians passed Proposition 13 in 1978 you struck a powerful blow for freedom.”
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company