California Politicians, to Citizens: It's Too Difficult to Tax You


Twisted Sister with a teabag

The state budget has jumped from $104 billion to $145 billion in less than six years, opening up an 11-figure (and technically illegal) budget gap. Spending growth has increased 6.8 percent a year under the current administration, compared to annual inflation-plus-population growth of just under 5 percent. Public sector unions dominate the political culture, fattening unstable pension programs and keeping public sector employment high. Sales taxes, income taxes, sin taxes, and various license fees have all recently been increased, and municpalities have been hiking their taxes and fees as well. And there are (insane) proposals on the table of a Democrat-led state legislature to do stuff like force resident businesses with websites–and their customers!–to pay sales tax on all e-commerce.

So what's Calfornia gonna do? Maybe launch a Constitutional Convention…to make it easier to raise taxes.

At issue is the requirement that a two-thirds vote of the California Legislature is needed to pass the state's budget and tax increases. California is one of just a handful of states requiring such a supermajority, and most years it leads to a weeks-long budget impasse. Convention backers want to drop the two-thirds majority rule to 55 percent.

There are many good reasons for a constitutional mulligan in California, some of them listed in the article (a cajillion amendments, spending formulae that turn the budget into a self-perpetuating pretzel, and a jiggery-pokery funding system from municipalities to states and back on down to counties). But don't be fooled for a second: The prize in this fight is reducing the tax threshold from 66.7 percent to 55 percent. It is an article of faith among the state's political class that the two biggest impediments to governability are Proposition 13 (which caps property-tax hikes) and the supermajority rule. To even point out the state's hysterical government and spending growth, which has not come with any noticeable improvement in services, is to initiate a conversation that many people (journalists, especially) have never held.

I wrote about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "failure" in February.