Pointing Loaded Laws At Taxpayers

Katy Grimes: In handgun safety classes, instructors warn, “don’t point a loaded gun at someone unless you intend to use it.”

Legislators know that the same rule applies to legislation – don’t propose it unless you intend to pass it.

With the state budget negotiations going sideways, it appears that some legislators are getting desperate and pointing loaded legislation at taxpayers now.

Last June – more than nine months ago – after attending a press conference held by Democratic Senators Darrell Steinberg (Sacramento), and Denise Ducheney (San Diego) where they announced their cleverly worded plan to “raise revenues,” I wrote, “The real issue is that Steinberg is proposing to shift a great deal of the state’s financial burden to the counties, and then plans to pass legislation that will allow the counties to raise taxes without a two-thirds vote,” (Raising Revenue, Democrat Party Style).

And now Steinberg has introduced SB 653, a loaded bill titled “Local taxation: counties: general authorization.” Interestingly, the bill started life earlier this year using only a few words. Today the bill has taken on a new life with more than 27 printable pages, full of legal language, amendments and obvious obfuscation.

But one thing is certain; this bill is as serious as a heart attack, and a catch-all bill for tax increases.

Authored by the influential Senate leader of the majority party in California, the bill proposes to tax:

  • beer, wine and hard alcohol
  • cigarettes
  • introducing local income taxes
  • a sweetened beverage tax
  • a local tax on “extractive business activities”
  • an oil severance tax
  • vehicle license tax

This bill is a real stinker. There is even language in it allowing the Board of Equalization to collect reimbursement from counties for data processing and printing expenses. Steinberg should tax tea while he is at it.

Last June Ducheney and Steinberg set the tone for local tax increases using “restructuring,” “raising revenue” and “local control” as the reasons for a bill allowing local governments to raise taxes, and now he can do it with only a majority vote of both houses.

Steinberg’s website  described the need for the June proposal as “an alternative to elements of the Governor’s [Schwarzenegger] budget that would harm our economic recovery, result in more than 450,000 lost jobs, and dramatically reduce the quality of life for all Californians.”  And Steinberg very slickly described the transfer to counties: “The proposal also improves government accountability by clarifying areas of responsibility for state and local governments as well as bringing services closer to the people in a manner that promotes efficiency and encourages innovation.  Under the proposal the state would begin to transfer $3-4 billion worth of public safety, human services, and health investments to counties to administer along with a revenue stream that does not increase the existing tax burden on regular Californians.

In various news stories, Steinberg appears to indicate that SB 653 is a negotiating tool, designed to get Republicans to agree to Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget… or else. But as we are already seeing, the Democratically controlled Senate, Assembly and Governor is passing bad bills without difficulty because there just aren’t enough Republicans to stop them. Throw a few wishy-washy moderate Republicans into the fray, and Steinberg and the Democrats can pass just about anything they want.

SB 653 is just the beginning of more spending and taxing Californians into a model that would make Eastern European countries envious.

APRIL 22, 2011

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