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Why the Republican Anti-Tax Movement Doesn’t Care About the Taxes that YOU Pay

I listened recently to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, on the Los Angeles NPR radio program “Air Talk with Larry Mantle.”

jarvisThe specific topic was the tax increase ballot measures, such as Proposition 1A, that were part of last month’s budget deal and are coming before California’s voters in a special election on May 19.

But Coupal wanted to talk about California’s taxes in general, and he made the claim that California’s taxes are the highest in the nation.

Wait a minute, I thought.

If Coupal is correct about Californians being so outrageously overtaxed — more than 30 years after the passage of Prop 13 – isn’t he admitting that both the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and its primary accomplishment – Prop 13 – have been dismal failures?

In fact, neither Coupal nor the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association really cares about the amount of taxes that Californians pay.

What they care about is the kind of taxes and who pays them.

And that’s far from the same thing as caring about taxes in general, or the taxes paid by the average Californian.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Prop 13, was initially a project of Los Angeles’ biggest apartment landlords.  Jarvis himself was a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association – initially concentrating his efforts in attempting to destroy rent control — and ran the campaign for Prop 13 from the Apartment Owners Association’s office.

The goal of Jarvis and his allies was not primarily to limit the taxes paid by California’s homeowners – at least not those who actually lived in the houses that they owned – or to limit the taxes paid by middle class Californians.

Instead, the goal of Jarvis, the anti-tax Republicans – and of Prop 13 – was to limit the taxes paid by the largest and richest commercial landowners and landlords.

By that measure – and only by that measure — his work and the work of his successors such Jon Coupal — has been a tremendous success.

Of course, as a direct result of Prop 13’s cap on business and commercial property taxes – and its equal treatment of all property taxes regardless of the kind of property owned – the rest of our taxes have increased.

In particular, Californians have been pummeled by increasing regressive taxes, such as the sales tax, the gasoline tax, and the vehicle registration tax.

But the Republican anti-tax movement doesn’t really care – and never have cared — about those kinds of taxes.

And by talking about taxes as though all taxes were the same and applied equally to everyone, the Republican anti-tax movement continues to protect the giant landlords whose taxes they’ve keep down and to bamboozle the middle class voters whose taxes continue to rise.

The next time you hear one of the anti-tax Republicans – or an avid John and Ken Show listener — strike a phony populist pose as they complain about California’s high taxes, ask them this:

How have the Republican anti-tax crusaders  limited taxes on the middle class or the average Californian?

Why do they make no distinction between owner-occupied property taxes and taxes on business, commercial and landlord property?

Why do they insist on making no distinction between progressive taxes – which require the richest Californians to pay more – and regressive taxes – which require us all to pay the same?

When you don’t get an answer to these questions, ask yourself this one:

How stupid do they think we are?

Based on their success in protecting the landlords and the rich by foisting California’s tax burden on the middle class, I’d say they have reason to think we’re pretty damn stupid.


  1. Jubal Jubal March 20, 2009

    How stupid do they think we are?

    Michael, that is a question better directed at yourself, and your ludicrous claim that Prop. 13 only benefits “the rich” and “property owners” and does nothing for the middle class.

    Go out and make that claim to your average California homeowner. They’ll laugh in your face.

    I am neither rich, nor a “property owner” except for my house. Prop. 13 is sole tax advantage of living in California. Without it, we’d be at the mercy of your tax-hiking partisan brethren in Sacramento.

  2. Michael D. Fox Michael D. Fox Post author | March 20, 2009

    Thanks for your comment, Jubal.

    I did not say that Prop 13 benefits only the rich. I did say — and it’s true — that as a result of Prop 13 and its equal treatment of all property (regardless of what kind) the overall taxes for middle class Californians have gone up.

    More significantly, what you have not addressed is my point that Republicans talk about taxes as through all taxes are the same and hit us all equally, while in fact, there are vast, and important, differences in different kinds of taxes, particularly in regard to who pays and how much.

    By fudging these differences, Republicans pose as the populist anti-tax party, while almost always supporting the most regressive kinds of taxation and the kinds of tax cuts that overwhelmingly and disproportionately favor the richest among us.

    But rather than propose real solutions to California’s budget crisis, you’ll probably complain about “class warfare” and push more “cut taxes and blame Democrats” claptrap.

    And why not? It’s worked in the past, at least for Orange County’s Republican politicians.

    Then again, when voters are deciding between the party of Barack Obama and the party of Rush Limbaugh, maybe it won’t anymore.

  3. Northcountystorm Northcountystorm March 21, 2009

    I’m not sure what Republicans you are talking to but the ones I know are generally opposed to any tax increase–regressive or progressive, and have been for many years.

    Jarvis & his successor Coupal no doubt had and have ulterior motives–you mentioned the apartment owners for Jarvis as an example. Another would be Coupal and Co’s betrayal of eminent domain reform by including a rent control poison pill in their measure, resulting in passage of the weak League of Cities version. But they also wanted to lower the property tax burden for homeowners in general. The fact of the matter is that Prop 13 passed because Californian’s were being hit with huge property tax bills and it was putting in jeopardy the ability of many limited and middle income Californians to keep their homes. I’m a Democrat, but the Democratic controlled legislature and Governor Brown did nothing about this problem, despite their being a large surplus, until prop. 13 qualified for the ballot. They then put up a weaker version which the public rejected. Had the Dems been on top of the issue we could have had your split-roll. But none of our constituent groups—the cities, trade unions, recipients of public assistance, you name it, wanted to mess with the flow of dough. So here we are.

    There’s no question Rush and Co. are perhaps more focused on tax relief for the wealthy—most Republicans–at least their spokespersons–are generally well off. And others truly believe in the Gospel of Success. Just as Democrats will fight for the poor in the tax system–even to the extent of supporting tax refunds for those who don’t make enough to pay taxes. But I doubt the viability of a ballot effort to undo or mess with prop. 13. It may prove as difficult to deal with as social security

    Finally, taxes have gone up primarily because of growth and increased demand on social services, including schools.

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