Friday, January 16, 2009
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Has the Governor Stepped Back From the Brink?
By JON COUPAL
From the perspective of California taxpayers, last week was nothing short of extraordinary. In the political equivalent of a game of chicken, an attempt by the tax-and-spend legislative majority to shred the California constitution came up short. And our Governor did the right thing by vetoing a massive tax increase, but questions remain about the reasons why.
Of course, all this started in mid-December when the Democrat majority jammed through a series of interconnected bills which would have imposed billions in new taxes. The constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote, imposed by Proposition 13, was no hurdle as they simply ignored it.
The Republicans repeatedly objected to this transparent violation, but the Democrats ignored them, too. The bill package was deemed passed and, over the course of the next two weeks, the Democrat leadership was using the bill package as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with the Governor.
The Republicans, meanwhile, had been shut out of the negotiations because of their radical stance that tax increases would actually hurt California. (The data, not surprisingly, supports this radical notion.) Taxpayer advocates weren’t taking this transgression lying down.
Over the holidays a legal team was assembled consisting of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association attorneys, John Eastman, who is a constitutional scholar of national reputation and is also the Dean of Chapman University Law School, and Tom Caso, former General Counsel of the highly respected Pacific Legal Foundation.
Rumors abounded as to whether the Governor and the Democrats were close to a deal. The Governor, in his public pronouncements, stated that he would agree to the tax increases if he got what he wanted in terms of economic stimulus. But on January 6th, the lawsuit was filed directly in the Court of Appeal against the Legislature, the Governor and various state officials having responsibility for either the processing of legislation or implementation of the taxes.
The Petitioners included Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, every single Republican Legislator, Jon Fleischman, Steve Poizner and the well known talk radio hosts John and Ken from KFI in Los Angeles.
After the filing of the suit, events broke very quickly. By 2:30 in the afternoon the Democrat leadership, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, held a press conference saying they were going to forward the bills “passed” in December to the Governor. Up to this point, the bills had been retained in the Legislature. In their press conference, Bass and Steinberg made it sound as if they had been close to a deal with the Governor on the tax increases but that “he kept moving the goal posts.” For whatever reason, it only took the Governor a couple hours to veto the entire bill package sent to him by the Democrats.
Regrettably, his veto message said nothing about his views on the legality of simple majority vote tax increases.
Nonetheless, the Governor deserves praise for vetoing horrible legislation which would have inflicted immeasurable damage to California’s economy.
Supporters of the Governor, in the days after the veto, contacted taxpayer advocates saying that we should take heart that the Governor has “turned the page” in the budget process by, once again, engaging the Republicans in the negotiations. We hope this is true.
Under the plain language of the Constitution, there will be no resolution of this crisis without Republican involvement.
The Governor has also made recent statements that he will pursue systemic changes in the way California conducts its business pursuant to the California Performance Review. The CPR process is something he proposed early in his administration (remember “blowing up the boxes?”) but inexplicably didn’t implement in subsequent years. His renewed interest is encouraging.
But the real test comes back to the notion that the Legislature can impose tax increases with a simple majority vote. What is needed most right now is a strong statement from the Governor that, under his duty to abide by the Constitution, there will be no tax increases unless supported by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Not only would such a statement by the Governor reflect fidelity to the law, it would also enhance his bargaining position for systemic reforms as well as the economic stimulus package he desires.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company