Activists Gear Up to Stop Tax Increase

MARCH 21, 2011


Opponents of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $12 billion tax increase already are spoiling for a fight. They’re not waiting to find out the fate of the governor’s proposal to put the matter before voters in June.

“We always have to be prepared are are starting to develop a campaign strategy,” Jon Coupal told me today; he’s president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and has fought many anti-tax battles in California.

However, Coupal added, “Today, it looks increasingly like there won’t be a vote.” Fresh from attending the weekend’s Republican convention, he said that he’s hopeful that the Democratic majority in the Legislature will not be able to peel off the two Republicans votes in each house, the Assembly and Senate, needed to put the matter before voters.

But he’s not taking any chances. “I think we’ll be ready the way were two years ago,” he said, referring the the successful effort to defeat a nearly identical tax increase advanced by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. According to Ballotpedia:

If Proposition 1A had passed, $10 billion in “temporary” sales, use, income and vehicle taxes imposed as part of the 2009-2010 budget agreement would each have been extended for one or two years, resulting in a further tax increase of some $16 billion.

Brown’s tax increase would be for five years.

Prop. 1A was wiped out by voters, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Anti-tax Coordination

Coupal said he already is coordinating with the Tea Party Network, Americans for Prosperity and other activists. “We’ll have a fairly broad-based coalition,” he said. “We’re already looking at a media buy” for anti-tax ads. “We’re actually more ready than we were two years ago. We’re more confident about defeating these tax increases.”

In media depictions of anti-tax activists, Coupal and the Jarvis group often are paired with Americans for Tax Reform and its president, Grover Norquist, whose main offices are in Washington, D.C. ATR tries to get legislators at all levels of government to sign anti-tax pledges, including opposition to even putting tax increases before voters. Most GOP members of the California Legislature have signed it.

ATR’s California activism has even drawn a reaction from Brown. The governor blasted Norquist’s efforts to keep tax increases off the ballot as “highly undemocratic.”

“We’ve definitely been following the situation in California,” Patrick Gleason, ATR’s director of state affairs, told me. “We’re doing robocalls in targeted districts. We hope the tax increase won’t get referred to the ballot. We’re still trying for that. But we’re looking ahead. We’re already planning strategy for the No campaign.”

Local Activists

Unlike across the nation last November, California’s Tea Party activists didn’t have much influence on California’s elections. They hope to change that should a tax-increase be on a ballot in June or later.

“Absolutely we’re gearing up for an election,” Dawn Wildman of Tea Party Patriots in San Diego told me. She’s also the California state coordinator and one of the national coordinators for the Tea Party. “We’re already opposing it while it’s still squirreling around the chambers of the Legislature. We’re planning anti-tax events for April 14-18.” In 2011, the filing deadline for state and federal taxes is April 18.

“We’re real certain the governor will be pushing for a vote,” she added. “We want a narrative about the tax increases. The governor and the mainstream media are not getting out the information that these are tax increases, not extensions.”

I wondered if this election would be similar to the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, which garnered national attention. “No,” Wildman replied. “The biggest challenge right now is watching the Republicans in the Legislature to make sure a couple of them don’t go to the dark side” and vote to put the tax increase on the ballot.

Another difference between past elections and events this year, she said, is the maturity of the Tea Party activists. “We get the game now,” she said. “We’re just not playing the game.”

Game Over?

Indeed, it may be that this activity by anti-tax activists will signal that the game is over for putting the tax increase on a ballot in June, or later. As I wrote a month ago, a vote on a California tax increase would become a national melee, drawing anti-tax groups from around the country against the increase, while also bringing in union pro-tax activists from across the land.

But the tax increasers almost certainly would lose, just as they did in 2009, and again with a different tax increase in 2010, Proposition 24. According to Ballotpedia, Prop. 24 lost by 58 percent to 42 percent.

Moreover, as I keep reminding people, the biggest problem in California isn’t the $25 billion budget deficit, but the 12.4 percent unemployment rate. Not just conservative economists, but liberal economists insist that the worst thing to do during a recession is to slam the economy harder with tax increases.

That may be why the Bee yesterday reported that an “all cuts budget may surface.”

We may be witnessing the end of the tax-increase game.

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