All 15 Republican members of the California Senate and all but one of the 32 Republican members of the California Assembly have joined state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) and Assemblywoman Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel) in pledging not to vote for any tax increases during their tenure in the body to which they have been elected.
California has a two-thirds supermajority requirement to enact a tax hike. Because more than one-third of the lawmakers in each legislative chamber have made a commitment against tax hikes, lawmakers will be forced to look for alternatives to raising taxes if they keep their promise.
McClintock and Walters are the Senate and Assembly chairs, respectively, of the Taxpayer Protection Caucus in California. At an April 9 news conference, they were joined by other state lawmakers and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in announcing, “Tax increases are off the table in California.”
The Taxpayer Protection Caucus is made up of lawmakers who firmly believe in the rights of the taxpayers and are committed to stop tax increases. Each member must sign Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which commits lawmakers to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes,” and keep it in order to belong to the caucus. More than 1,200 office holders in every state have signed the pledge.
Opposes All Tax Hikes
McClintock, who organized the news conference, said he believes the signing of the pledge by more than one-third of California’s lawmakers is of great importance.
“California state government is now consuming a larger portion of personal income and bearing a larger debt burden than at any time in our history, and yet we can’t seem to scrape together enough money to build a decent road system or educate our kids or protect our families from predators,” McClintock said.
“This isn’t the fault of taxpayers for not paying enough taxes,” McClintock continued. “It is the fault of years of waste and mismanagement of our ample resources, and that management problem will not be addressed until and unless we can draw–and hold–a solid line against further tax increases.”
Norquist agreed, saying, “There are two reasons the Taxpayer Protection Pledge is important. First, stopping tax increases allows Californians to keep more of the money they earn. Second, only when tax increases are off the table will the politicians in Sacramento be forced to actually govern.”
Norquist said tax increases “allow politicians to avoid the tough questions and the tough actions. The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is good for taxpayers. And it is necessary for the politicians to force them to focus on governing.”
Signing Sends Message
Walters said she thinks the message of the pledge-signing is clear.
“The fact that nearly all Republican legislators in California signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge sends a strong message to the majority party that it is a waste of time to attempt to raise taxes while Republicans have a two-thirds block,” Walters said.
The day after the news conference, the Orange County Register editorialized, “If you’re sympathetic to more taxes, consider this partial list of the types of taxes we already pay.” The newspaper then listed more than 30 items or commodities that are being taxed.
The editorial continued, “You’re even taxed when you give away (gift taxes) what you’ve managed to hang on to after taxes. And after you die, you’re taxed on what you leave behind (inheritance taxes). That’s why the McClintock-Norquist pledge Monday warmed our heart.”
McClintock said he believes the pledge will help redefine public policy, which he says is the area in which California ran astray.
“Those who remember what California once was know what California can be,” McClintock said. “A generation ago, paying far lower taxes than we pay today, California enjoyed a booming economy, the finest highway system in the world, the finest public schools in the country, abundant electricity, water, and affordable housing. The only thing that has changed between those days and these is public policy.”
Governor Calls Taxes ‘Fees’
The timing of the news conference had relevance. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), while not a signer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, ran for election on a no-new-taxes platform. Since then he has deviated from his fiscally conservative stance and is currently proposing new taxes on employers, doctors, and hospitals … but he is calling them “fees” because fees require only a simple majority to be enacted.
“Signers of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge have their work cut out for them,” Norquist said, “but as a unified caucus, they are ready to tackle the challenge. We’re looking forward to working with them and Pledge signers around the country to identify alternative solutions and develop good public policy.”
Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform.