California's two-thirds vote requirement to pass new taxes is intended to protect taxpayers, not to accommodate tax spenders. This concept appears lost on the Legislature, which already overtaxes residents more than does nearly every other state and overspends what's collected by billions, perhaps tens of billions, of dollars by the time a final accounting is made.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature last fall tried to increase taxes on a mere simple-majority vote. The blatant challenge to the constitutional two-thirds standard ended up in court, but no ruling was made. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the tax increases, which the court said made the legal case moot.
Those who would increase taxpayers' burden have now elicited an opinion from the Legislature's legal counsel saying it's permissible to increase taxes by simple majority approval, if other taxes are reduced to offset the increase. This view considers the effect of tax increases from government's perspective. If overall taxes collected remain the same, the reasoning goes, there is no real tax increase.
That is a disingenuous argument. Even if your taxes are reduced to compensate for your neighbor's tax increase, your neighbor's tax still will have increased. And that's what California's constitution is intended to protect against.
When voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 13 in 1978, they weren't seeking to protect or stabilize government revenue streams. They were seeking to protect taxpayers. Each taxpayer.
"They are not looking at the intent, they are trying to parse the language," said Anthony Caso, who represented the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association last fall in the lawsuit to block the simple-majority tax bill.
Mr. Caso and Tim Bittle, the taxpayer group's legal affairs director, told us they expect the recent legal counsel opinion may be used to justify new legislation to increase taxes with less than two-thirds' approval. When the governor vetoed a similar bill last fall, he didn't say he opposed its simple-majority approval. Some take that to mean Mr. Schwarzenegger can be persuaded to join in circumventing the constitutional protection.
Obviously, tax-hungry Sacramento desires more, not less, taxpayers' money. Claims of so-called "revenue-neutral" tax increases offset by tax decreases should be viewed with that in mind.