Reform group wants higher taxes

March 24, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

At a hearing Tuesday in the Improving the State Committee, the new “bipartisan” group, California Forward, made another heartfelt appeal to legislators for support of what is supposed to be something everyone can believe in: Higher taxes and abolishment of the two-thirds vote required for raising taxes.

Claiming its mission “is to improve the quality of life for all Californians by creating more responsive, representative and cost-effective government,” Bob Hertzberg, former Democratic Assembly leader and California Forward co-chairman, gave an impassioned speech to legislators about the need to “reinvent our state.” Hertzberg insisted that “California is not failing; our successes are giving us the challenges.”

Quoting a speaker he heard at a conference over the weekend, Hertzberg said,  “We are the leaders we have been waiting for.”

Visiting the California Forward Web site, it’s easy to discern that this is not a “bipartisan” group. The staff and leadership are comprised of Democratic politicians, Democratic campaigners and many Democratic Party regulars.

In my CalWatchdog story, “California Forward or Backward?,” I gave the background of California Forward and the questionable “bipartisan” mission, even with the word “reforms” used generously and regularly.

Bipartisan involvement seems limited. Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, is extensively quoted on the California Forward Web site, but makes it clear that he supports more local government support. Republican Bruce McPherson, former Secretary of State, spoke at the Tuesday hearing complaining about California’s broken budget system. However, McPherson is described in his California Forward bio as “a moderate and nonpartisan office holder” – hardly representative of a party-line Republican.

Democrat and former Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo is on the list of consultants, as is fellow Democrat and former Gary Hart campaign manager Steven Weiss, and Ryan Rauzon is the former deputy press secretary to Democratic Assembly Speakers Hertzberg and Herb Wesson. On the staff is Zabrea Valentine, former aid to Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and National Democratic Institute employee. Sunne Wright McPeak, a Democrat, is the former state secretary of business and is listed as part of the California Forward leadership team. Robert Balgenorth is president of the California AFL-CIO State Building and Construction Trades Council and is the number three man on the leadership team, as is Bill Hauck, former chief of staff for Gov. Pete Wilson. The list of staff, consultants and leadership is available here: Leadership.

California Forward has been pushing issues such as the Community Funding Protection and Accountability Act of 2010. Counties that adopt a “Countywide Strategic Action Plan” may increase the local sales and use tax rate by up to 1 cent upon approval by a simple majority of the voters, even though the increase qualifies as a special tax requiring two-thirds voter approval. Half of the tax proceeds would be allocated to school districts and the remainder allocated to the Countywide Strategic Action Plan.

Besides using the simple majority vote on a tax increase, this measure undermines taxpayer protection — the very spirit of Proposition 13, as well as Propositions 62 and 218 and the decision in the Guardino case (Santa Clara County Local Transportation Authority v. Guardino), which unequivocally demands that a two-thirds majority vote is required to increase special taxes.

The measure makes local governments less accountable, and limits voter oversight and input into how tax proceeds are spent. Voters will not get an opportunity to approve the Countywide Strategic Action Plan or provide input on how tax proceeds will be allocated among the county agencies, and are only allowed to vote on whether or not to increase taxes leaving county boards of supervisors and local agencies to decide how to spend the money. The measure raises one of the already highest sales and use tax rates in the nation to an even higher level.

The LAO wrote:

“Under this measure, (1) cities, counties, and schools would have higher and more stable revenues and (2) state revenues would be lower in some years than otherwise would be the case.

“Higher and More Stable Resources for Local Governments

“This measure would make it easier for voters to approve some countywide sales taxes to support city, county, and school programs, compared to the existing two-thirds vote requirement for special taxes. As a result, counties probably would propose more of these measures and voters probably would approve more of them.

“However, the LAO also recognized the downside of the majority vote to increase taxes: ‘California’s 2004 election illustrates the potential effect of setting a majority vote threshold for new sales taxes. During that year, local governments proposed 48 sales tax increases for special purposes. Voters approved one-third of them. If the voter approval threshold for these taxes had been 50 percent, over half of these taxes would have been approved.”

Overall, the LAO predicts that the measure would have “major increases” of more than $1 billion, in annual city, county and school revenues and spending, depending on local voter approval of future tax proposals.

California Forward claims that the purpose of the Community Funding Protection and Accountability Act of 2010 is “To promote efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability in local government,” by reducing the two-thirds vote to pass taxes to a simple majority vote.

David Wolfe, Legislative Analyst with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said while they like the transparency issues California Forward has, the group opposes any attempt to abolish the two-thirds vote requirement for passage of California’s budget or local taxes and fees. Jon Coupal, President of HJTA added, “This proposal repeals an important provision of Prop 13 by attempting to characterize a tax intended for specific purposes as a “general tax.” The sole motivation behind this is to permit this special tax to be approved with less than a two-thirds vote as currently required by Section 4 of Article XIIIA. (Article XIIIA is Prop 13).

11 comments

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  1. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 24 March, 2010, 13:34

    “McPherson is described in his California Forward bio as “a moderate and nonpartisan office holder” – hardly representative of a party-line Republican.”

    Gasp! A Moderate Republican? We can’t be listening to these moderates. Next thing you know, people may begin to understand that cuts along will not solve our state’s budget problems.

    Off with their heads!

    Reply this comment
  2. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 25 March, 2010, 07:44

    ‘Hertzberg insisted that “California is not failing; our successes are giving us the challenges.”’

    Is it any wonder California is in the mess we are?

    Reply this comment
  3. PRI
    PRI Author 25 March, 2010, 14:11

    A decade ago in the Leg, Hertzberg was a big force behind the pension spiking that sank us into this fiscal hole.

    The budget cuts are coming, and they’re going to be big and painful. Look at Greece: 25% budget cuts coming there. Same thing here.

    The hangover is bigger the more you chugged.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  4. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 26 March, 2010, 08:01

    Steve:
    Why am I not surprised that you are a frequent(?) visitor at the huffingtonpost?

    Reply this comment
  5. Gayle Kindall
    Gayle Kindall 26 March, 2010, 09:38

    tell California Forward to back up–no higher taxes ( you can’t bleed a turnip), government
    needs to trim everything. And no abolishment of the 2/3 vote required for raising such
    taxes!! That’s how sneaky things get through and break up our preservation.

    Reply this comment
  6. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 26 March, 2010, 10:25

    Gayle would rather cut off home care to Alzheimer’s patients than tax oil companies on their production–something that every other oil producing state does. Thank God the majority of Californians don’t agree with her. Latest Field Poll shows 70 percent or more oppose cuts to programs for elderly, blind and disabled.

    And Larry, I’m sorry you don’t have better things to do than track my online habits. Hey, maybe you can follow me online while listening to Rush and watching Glenn Beck. What a trifecta!

    Reply this comment
  7. Scotty Roberts
    Scotty Roberts 27 March, 2010, 06:29

    Steve, I never have been able to understand the mind-set of democrats. Possibly you can help me. Why is it that government is relied on to do things for the poor and disabled and the private sector/charities/families are not? How is it that forcefully seizing money from a productive sector of the economy for all these “good” purposes be justified? Is it just majority/mob rule that only counts? Ever been to Cuba, Steve? I have, and believe me my friend when I tell you that you wouldn’t want to live there under that egalitarian system, if you catch my drift.

    Please put me firmly on your list below Gayle, Glen Beck and Rush. I would be honored indeed.

    Reply this comment
  8. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 27 March, 2010, 10:31

    The role of government is to do for our people what they are unable to do for themselves. Democrats believe, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, that taxes “are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

    Haven’t been to Cuba, Scotty, but I was here at home in 2008 when the results of the Republican philosophy of letting the private sector run amok became clear. No, I wouldn’t want to live in Cuba. But Canada, with its health care system that all citizens can enjoy, wouldn’t be so bad.

    It’s awfully frustrating to try to have a rational conversation with someone who is honored to be in the company of two of the most dangerous people in America.

    I assume, for example, that you believe–as Glenn Beck does–that social justice is a code word for communism or naziism. I also assume you subscribe to the Rush Limbaugh doctrine that any Republican who cooperates and tries to work together with people of differing parties or ideologies is a “traitor” and “unpatriotic.” Limbaugh has done more than any other person in my memory to destroy honest and constructive political discourse and cooperation in this country.

    Other than that, they are probably both nice guys, as I’m sure you are.

    Reply this comment
  9. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 28 March, 2010, 06:23

    Cut the babble Steve.
    Oh, and please DO move to Canada if you think their healthcare is so much better. But keep your visa current so you can come back to the US if you ever get sick. That’s what the Canadians do.

    Reply this comment
  10. Fred Mangels
    Fred Mangels 28 March, 2010, 06:54

    It’s government the way Steve wants it that ran California into the ground. When you try and get government to do everything, you’ll find it can’t do anything very well and eventually it implodes.

    Reply this comment

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