AG Becerra can’t be trusted when naming props

By Jon Coupal | Last week, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for his abject failure to produce impartial ballot material related to Proposition 15, the “split roll” attack that seeks the partial repeal of Proposition 13.

What Proposition 15 does can be described simply: It raises property taxes on commercial and industrial real estate. And yet, how does Becerra describe it in the ballot title? Like this: “Increases funding sources for public schools, community colleges, and local governments by changing assessment of commercial and industrial property.”

What is missing, of course, are the words “tax increase” or “increases property taxes” or any other word or phrase that fairly characterizes what the measure does. Even the description of how the money will be spent is misleading. In fact, most of the money goes to local governments, not education. But, of course, “education” polls better than “local governments” so Becerra, in his never-ending quest to serve the interests of public-sector labor groups, dutifully gave them the title they wanted for their effort to pass a huge tax increase.

Past criticism of Becerra’s bias has been vocal but there has been little recourse. In 2018, taxpayers won a case in the trial court over the description of the gas tax repeal, only to have that victory reversed by the appeals court. However, things may be different now because Becerra’s irresponsible behavior has even caught the attention of mainstream media. Within the last few weeks, editorial boards and columnists have lambasted Becerra.

To read the entire column, please click here.

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HJTA files suit against Attorney General for ballot material deception

Wednesday the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra for his abject failure to produce impartial ballot material related to Proposition 15, the “split roll” attack that seeks the partial repeal of Proposition 13. 

Past criticism of Becerra’s bias has been vocal but has now reached a crescendo. Just this past week, editorial boards and columnists have lambasted Becerra. In fact, the specific deficiencies of Prop 15’s ballot label as well as the title and summary are well identified in the media reports themselves:

  • “The ballot title on Prop. 15 begins by stating that it ‘increases funding sources for public schools, community colleges and local government services.’ It would do so, it states, by ‘changing tax assessment’—not raising taxes—on commercial and industrial property.” (John Diaz, California attorney general loads language on 2 November measures, The S.F. Chronicle, July 26, 2020, https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/diaz/article/California-attorney-general-loads-language-on-2-15434094.php, emphasis in original.)
  • “The title and summary of Proposition 15 are not only tilted toward one side, they are less than fully accurate. Property in California is not taxed on ‘purchase price.’ It’s taxed on fair market value at the time of purchase, adjusted annually, for inflation with increases capped at 2 percent per year…To say property is currently taxed on ‘purchase price’ conveys an impression that property taxes do not rise at all, which is misleading in a way that favors the measure’s proponents who seek to raise taxes. It’s also misleading, if not completely false, to state that Proposition 15 ‘increases funding sources.’ It doesn’t add new sources, it increases taxes on existing sources: businesses in California.” (The Editorial Board, Editorial: Biased ballot measure titles and summaries distort our democracy, Southern California News Group + Bay Area News Group, July 22, 2020, https://www.ocregister.com/2020/07/22/biased-ballot-measure-titles-and-summaries-distort-our-democracy/.)
  • “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has once again written a biased ballot title and summary, which deliberately misleads voters about Prop. 15…” “The attorney general contorts the English language to avoid using the word ‘tax.’ Unfortunately, he can’t call Prop 15 a revenue increase, since, as the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office says, some rural governments could lose money if Prop 15 passes.” (Katy Grimes, Prop. 15: Messy Title, Feud With Signer, and Ironic Zuckerberg Contributions, California Globe, July 27, 2020, https://californiaglobe.com/section-2/prop-15-messy-title-feud-with-signer-and-ironic-zuckerberg-contributions/.)
  • “Rather than simply describe Proposition 15 for what it does, Becerra’s official title summarizes it this way: ‘Increases funding for public schools, community colleges, and local government services by changing tax assessment of commercial and industrial property.’” (Dan Walters, Becerra slants two ballot measure titles, CALmatters, July 27, 2020, https://calmatters.org/commentary/dan-walters/2020/07/california-becerra-partisan-ballot-measure-titles/.)

“This blatant manipulation of the ballot label as well as the title and summary is in direct contravention of the Attorney General’s fiduciary duty to prepare impartial ballot material,” said Jon Coupal, President of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. 

California voters are entitled by law to “a true and impartial statement of the purpose of the measure in such language that the ballot title and summary shall neither be an argument, nor be likely to create prejudice, for or against the proposed measure.” Instead, Attorney General Becerra has bowed to the political power of special interests who seek to hide from the voters that the measure they have put on the ballot is the biggest property tax increase in California history.

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Roundup of wasted taxpayer money

By Jon Coupal | Anyone who’s ever managed a household knows that it’s not only how much money you make that matters. It’s also how much you spend.

California’s budget is vastly more complicated, and less transparent, than family finances. So it’s even more important for taxpayers to watch closely as elected officials spend our money.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation released its annual “Follow the Money” report on July 15, coinciding with this year’s postponed Tax Day. It’s a catalog of careless, excessive and wasteful spending, or, as some might have it, business as usual.

For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles had years to prepare for the launch of the national “Real ID,” but failed to do so. The agency was rewarded with an additional $242 million in new spending to try again.

State Auditor Elaine Howle found misuse of state resources in county fair funds, documenting $318,000 in misspent funds, including more than $30,000 for “excessive and unauthorized travel expenses,” lavish dinners and alcohol.

In another audit, Howle discovered that the California State University system hid $1.5 billion in an outside account to spend on operating costs, while raising tuition almost yearly and asking the Legislature for more funding. CSU has nearly doubled tuition from 2008 to 2018.

To read the entire column, please click here.

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Prop. 13 is working, reject Prop. 15

By Jon Coupal and Ernest J Dronenburg Jr | Come November, Proposition 13 faces its biggest political battle at the ballot box. It is instructive to ask whether that iconic tax affordability measure remains good tax policy for California.

As the just-released property tax assessments rolls from several California counties reveal, Proposition 13 is working exceedingly well at keeping homeowners and small business owners from losing their properties to skyrocketing property taxes, while delivering government a reliable source of revenue. Voters would be foolish to repeal one of its major protections this November.

Take San Diego County, for example. The assessed value of all taxable property increased to a record high $604.75 billion, more than a five percent increase over last year. Because the state-set “lien date” is January 1st, any potential impact from COVID-19 won’t show up in this year’s numbers. Nonetheless, there is little to suggest that the county will see any major downturn in the real estate market, notwithstanding the pandemic.

San Diego’s experience with Proposition 13, as with most California counties, should lay to rest the notion that Proposition 13 has starved local government of revenue. Since 1978, increases in property tax revenue for local governments have far exceeded population and inflation. And while California now has the highest income tax rate, gas tax and sales tax rate in America, we remain in the top third (17th out of 50) in per capita property tax revenue. In short, we are not a low property tax state.

To read the entire column, please click here.

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Fullerton’s vampire sales tax measure

By George Jacobson | Like a vampire who keeps returning to his victim for more blood, the City of Fullerton is back again, this time asking voters to approve on Election Day this November 3rd a permanent one and a quarter cent (1.25 cents) general sales tax measure. The same City Council just a year ago voted to increase water rates by a total of 49% over a 5-year period. Although many residents and local businesses have experienced very serious financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and lockdown, the City Council refused to even consider postponing the scheduled July 1st water rate increase, forcing us to pay what is now to date a 29% water rate increase, and which goes up another 11% next July 1.

Not only that, but by a 4-1 vote (with Council Member Bruce Whitaker voting NO) at its last meeting on July 7, 2020 the City Council instead expressed its desire to squeeze even more money out of residents via a permanent 1.25 cents sales tax increase. Needless to say, a permanent 1.25 cents sales tax can only increase the financial hardship so many in Fullerton have been experiencing, resulting in a higher cost of living for local residents as well as more lost jobs and closed businesses locally.

Here’s what the four City Council members who favor the permanent sales tax don’t want you to know: most, if not all, of the money raised by the sales tax will go toward paying the existing too-high salaries and pension plan benefits for City administrators and other employees, such as those working in the police and fire departments.

The wording of the sales tax measure tries to mislead you into thinking that most of the money will go towards repairing Fullerton’s roads. The ballot measure’s headline, for example, prominently displays the phrase “STREET REPAIR” in all capital letters, while the paragraph below the headline which purports to describe what the sales tax money will fund begins as follows: “To provide funding to fix local streets/roads, potholes.”

Wording of sales tax increase ballot measure
Wording of sales tax increase measure

For starters, the sales tax measure is a general sales tax, meaning the City Council can spend the money for any purpose, such as salaries and pension plan contributions for City employees; the Council members are not restricted to spending the tax money on roads. Secondly, the City’s Infrastructure and Natural Resources Advisory Committee (INRAC), determined that the City needs to allocate $24 million/year over a 20-year period to bring Fullerton’s pothole-ridden streets up to a satisfactory condition, and unanimously recommended to the City Council that it adopt a special sales tax whereby all the revenue raised from it would go solely into street repair and other infrastructure needs.

But the City Council flatly turned down this recommendation (again voting 4-1, with Whitaker voting NO), and voted instead to place on the November ballot a general 1.25 cents sales tax measure, which only requires a 50% + 1 “yes” vote to pass. The City Council wants people to believe that Fullerton’s busted up streets will be repaired with the money that a so-called “infrastructure fund” ordinance the Council recently passed will provide.

But the infrastructure ordinance doesn’t come close to accomplishing this. Instead, under a best case scenario — which would be a booming local economy — the revenue from a new sales tax will provide only a fraction of the money needed annually to repair Fullerton’s roads. This means that, even if the general sales tax measure is approved, Fullerton’s streets will continue to get worse and worse, year after year.

So, who wins if the 1.25 cents sales tax measure passes? Well that’s easy to figure out: the City of Fullerton’s employees. Most people will be astounded at the salaries and compensation levels of the City’s employees. Some people I have spoken to believe that a Fullerton policeman, for example, earns $70,000 or maybe $80,000/year in compensation. Here’s the reality. The Transparent California website provides by name the salary, overtime pay, and total compensation level of each City of Fullerton employee.

In visiting this website, one sees that the 51 highest paid City of Fullerton employees work in either the police or the fire department and that each one of them receives over $249,000/year in total compensation. The 15th highest paid employee’s occupation is “Police Officer”– that is to say, he’s just a regular policeman (no additional rank). His total compensation for 2019 was an incredible $313,651!

I can go on and on, but just a quick glance at Transparent California will make you instantly realize that the City’s police and fire employees are way overpaid. To make this fact even more apparent, keep in mind that the FPD’s budget for this year and next is approximately $50 million, which equates to a cost of $345 per resident in Fullerton for police services. If Fullerton contracted with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and paid $221/resident (the average cost for OCSD contracted cities), the city of Fullerton would save $18,006,051 per year. If Fullerton could get the same deal as Yorba Linda, which pays the Sheriff’s Department only $180 per resident, it would save nearly $24 million/year, which just so happens to be the exact amount that INRAC said Fullerton needs to spend each year to repair its streets and roads.

In addition, while all too many people in Fullerton during this pandemic have seen their income decline or even disappear, the Fullerton City Council has approved a salary increase for those working in the Police Department. In short, the entire point of the permanent 1.25 cents sales tax measure is to maintain the existing too-high salaries and pension plan benefits for City employees. But, of course, the City Council doesn’t dare tell people the truth, because then few people would vote in favor of the sales tax measure.

I must mention one outright lie the sales tax ballot measure contains, which is this wording: “retain local businesses/jobs.” Common sense tells you that a higher sales tax will drive some businesses out of business, as a certain number of customers will shop instead in a nearby city, such as Brea, Anaheim or Buena Park, which have no additional local sales tax.

This doing one’s shopping elsewhere will especially be the case with high dollar value items, such as kitchen appliances and furniture. Scientific studies confirm that a local sales tax is, indeed, harmful to the local economy. For example, a 2012 study published in the National Tax Journal, titled “The Effect of Sales Taxes on Employment,” found the following: “Sales tax changes have a detrimental effect on employment, payroll, and hiring.”

Niccolo Machiavelli’s advice to a ruler was, “Tell people what they want to hear.” This can be the only explanation behind the City’s placing on the ballot the obviously wrong “retain local businesses/job” wording, for if they placed on the ballot the scientifically-determined truthful wording — “lose local businesses/jobs” — people would vote against this permanent sales tax measure.

Economics 101 is that you do NOT raise taxes during a depression or recession. Doing so only increases the financial hardship and suffering of people. But, the plight of Fullerton’s residents and local businesses seems to be of no concern whatsoever to four members of the Fullerton City Council. Which is why this coming November, 3, 2020 it’s time to provide a big surprise to the vampire.

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Billions of reasons taxpayers must demand accountability

With COVID-19 precautions making government accountability more challenging, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation’s annual Follow the Money report shows taxpayers must remain vigilant against waste, fraud, and abuse.

This year’s report, released today on July 15th to coincide with this year’s postponed Tax Day, includes a special section exposing instances of waste arising directly from the pandemic response. These examples range from a $1 billion mask deal that was criticized by representatives from both parties to a San Francisco program distributing free alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs to the homeless.

Additional instances occurring in California’s conduct of business as usual include the state’s theft of $330 million meant for distressed homeowners, $242 million in extra funding granted to the state DMV due to their failure to properly prepare for the Real ID despite having years of warning, and $1 billion of taxpayer money CSU schools hid while lobbying for more money and raising tuition.

The examples exposed in the report were gleaned from official audits and media investigations.

“In this time of uncertainty, taxpayers must continue to hold Sacramento accountable for how they spend our hard earned dollars,” said HJTF chairman Jon Coupal. “The current quarantine is putting people out of work around the state. If politicians are allowed to spend with impunity now, we can expect them to use their debts as yet another pretense for tax increases. Nothing could be more counterproductive to our recovery.”

To download the Follow the Money report as a PDF file, please click here.

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When the state becomes the pusher

By Jon Coupal | We all know that there is an endless list of addictive substances that present a real danger to people. Alcohol, cocaine and heroin just to name a few. But a powerful addictive substance provided by our own government is public money. Few things can get individuals and institutions more hooked than that.

Although we’ve known for a long time that government largess often comes with negative consequences, what recently brought this to mind was a series of stories revealing which businesses and non-profit organizations received public funds from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). These reports question whether the program — intended to preserve jobs by helping small businesses get through the pandemic — has served its intended purpose.

For example, the Small Business Administration released information which shows that private equity-backed chains and some companies owned by members of Congress received money from the Paycheck Protection Program along with almost 90,000 employers that would not commit to retaining their employees. Just in the Sacramento area, more than 800 companies borrowed money from the federal government including powerful lobbying organizations and law firms.

Although initially resistant to releasing data on PPP disbursements, the federal government relented when faced with possible litigation. While the exact amounts of the loans to specific recipients were not disclosed, the Treasury Department and Small Business Administration made available a list of the thousands of businesses, nonprofits and others that received at least $150,000.

To read the entire column, please click here.

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Proposition 19 is latest assault on taxpayers

By Jon Coupal | The assaults on California property owners and taxpayers never stop. And once again the California Legislature has advanced a massive tax increase at the last possible moment when they thought no one was paying attention.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment No. 11 (ACA11), approved by the California Legislature, takes away Proposition 13 protections that California families have under current law and replaces them with a billion-dollar tax increase. Voters will have an opportunity to reject this scheme come November, as ACA11 will appear on the ballot as Proposition 19.

After the historic passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, Californians finally had certainty about their future property tax liability because increases in the “taxable value” of property were limited to 2 percent per year. Property would be reassessed to market value only when it changed hands. To prevent families from getting hit with huge tax increases, voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 58 in 1986, changing the state constitution to ensure that transfers of certain property between parents and children could occur without triggering the sticker shock of reassessment.

Under Prop. 58, a home of any value and up to a million dollars of assessed value of other property may be transferred between parents and children without reassessment. Proposition 19 (2020) would repeal Proposition 58 (1986) and force the reassessment of inherited or transferred property within families. The only exception is if the property is used as the principal residence of the person to whom it was transferred, and even that exclusion is capped.

To read the entire column, please click here.

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Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration included a paragraph on slavery that Congress edited out

Clay S. Jenkinson is the creator of this podcast — a nationally syndicated public radio program, The Thomas Jefferson Hour, heard on many NPR stations.

Independence Day was one of only two holidays that Jefferson celebrated. Joining Clay on this podcast is historian Joseph Ellis, who shares some perspectives and insights on the day, including John Adams’ belief that Independence Day would always be celebrated on July 2nd.

Also discussed is a very significant paragraph Jefferson wrote for the Declaration of Independence regarding slavery that congress edited out.

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The very first Fourth of July

Thomas Jefferson was not the first choice to write the Declaration of Independence. He accepted the assignment reluctantly, but he brought genius to the project, including the 35 most important words in the English language.

By Clay S. Jenkinson | It wasn’t widely known that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence until a quarter century later when he stood for the presidency of the United States. At the time when the 33-year-old Virginian sat down to write America’s birth certificate at his portable writing desk in a boarding house on Seventh and Market streets in Philadelphia in the third week of June 1776, he was a relatively unknown figure in national circles.

He had a reputation for being a hard reader, a brilliant scholar, and a lucid crafter of English prose, but he did not take part in the sometimes-heated debates that were propelling the 13 American colonies toward independence. John Adams later reported that “during the whole Time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three Sentences together.”

Jefferson was a shy man and a homebody, who had lingered so long at Monticello in the spring of 1776 that he nearly missed the opportunity to write the document that secured his immortality. He did not finally leave Virginia until early May. His wife Martha was never in robust health. She would die in 1782 at the age of 33. His mother Jane had died on the last day of March — suddenly, of a stroke. He lingered at home for five weeks following her death, suffering from what he called his “periodical headache,” some sort of severe tension headache (possibly migraine) that forced him to sit alone in a darkened room for days, even weeks, at a time.

By the time he reached Philadelphia in mid-May, the American Revolution was picking up speed. On May 15, the Congress passed a resolution — the work of John Adams — urging each colony to establish its own post-colonial government. On June 9, a committee of five was appointed to draw up a statement justifying American independence. Two members dropped away immediately. That left Jefferson, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. Franklin preferred not to undertake the assignment. Adams prevailed on Jefferson to write the first draft, citing three reasons. First, Adams believed that a Virginian should take the lead. Second, Adams acknowledged that many delegates to the Continental Congress found him obnoxious. Third, Adams said Jefferson wrote 10 times better than he did.

To read the entire article, please click here.

Clay Jenkinson is editor-at-large of Governing.

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