The Charge of the Democrat Light Brigade: California Democrats Caught in Republican Tax Trap

charge-of-the-light-brigade-posters2Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
– Alfred Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Like the Russians did to the British at Balaclava in Tennyson’s famous poem, California’s Republicans have set a deadly trap for Democrats that they won’t be able to escape.

When the state’s more than $40 billion shortfall and budget stalemate was resolved last month, it was on condition that several tax increase propositions — most notably Prop 1A — be placed before the voters.  Governor Schwarzenegger has set May 19, 2009, as the date that the voters will decide the fate of these propositions in a special election.

Schwarzenegger and the state Democratic leadership support these tax increase propositions.

The Republicans – who acquiesced in both the budget and its tax increases by permitting the minimum number of their party members to vote for the deal that ended the stalemate – are now likely to oppose them.

Joining the Republicans in urging that voters reject the tax increase propositions will be the state’s powerful and well-funded anti-tax organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.

As a result, the voters will see an intense, expensive, and high publicity campaign leading up to the May 19 special election that pits Democrats (and their union allies) arguing for higher taxes against Republicans (and their anti-tax allies) calling for no increase in taxes.

Once again, the Republicans will be the party saying no to taxes and the Democrats will be forced to be the party of tax increases.

To most voters, it will not matter that the budget deal was explicitly premised on the state getting the increased revenue from these taxes.

Nor will it matter to the Republicans that they tacitly agreed to these tax increases when they signed off on the state’s budget.

Instead, the Republicans will seize the opportunity of the special election to make amends to the state’s anti-tax forces – which are mad as hell at them for agreeing to the state budget – and to paint the Democrats – once again — as profligate spenders who want to tax Californians to death.

To make matters worse for the Democrats, the propositions that are going before the voters on May 19 are mostly hikes in regressive taxes and state fees – including increases in the state’s income tax, sales tax, gasoline tax and vehicle fees – that hit middle class pocketbooks hardest.

Again, it will not matter to voters that it was the Republicans who insisted that if the state’s revenue is increased, it be increased by the most regressive kinds of tax measures.

Nor is it likely to matter to voters that for decades the Republicans and the state’s anti-tax forces have forced the middle class to bear the brunt of the state’s revenue needs because of Prop 13’s constitutional command not to tax commercial or business property differently than owner-occupied homes, and the Republicans’ steadfast commitment to protecting the rich by opposing any form of progressive taxation.

The reason that these facts are unlikely to matter to voters is that the Democrats have done a terrible job of making these arguments in the past, and specifically failed to make these arguments during the heat of the most recent budget battle.

California’s Democrats should have taken their cue from the Obama campaign and insisted that the state’s already battered middle class be protected from any tax increase.

And like Obama, California’s Democrats should instead have called for balancing the state budget through higher taxes for the very rich who have benefited so disproportionately from both the Bush tax cuts and the financial deregulation that has led to our national economic crisis.

But it’s probably too late to do that now.

The tax trap is set.

And California’s Democrats are riding right into it.

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2 responses to “The Charge of the Democrat Light Brigade: California Democrats Caught in Republican Tax Trap

  1. “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years,” he says, “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”- Grover Norquist, May 14, 2001

    I really believe the current crisis is part of a larger effort to cripple government, to render it so broke that it can no longer function in any way other than the most rudimentary, on both a national and state level.

  2. tommmcat, how can holding taxes constant (as a percent of economic activity) in any way cripple the functioning of the government? The problem comes when government needs a larger and larger percentage of economic activity to run their programs so less remains for individuals and businesses to use for themselves and their employees.

    Admittedly an exaggeration, but take increasing taxes (as a percent of economic activity) to the limit where there is no money left for individuals and businesses and what have you got? A welfare state where everyone lives off the government. Is this a good direction to head with ever-increasing tax rates?

    What’s a good number for how much an individual or business should be able to keep from their earnings? 80%, 70%, 50%, less? Where do you think California is currently at, when added to federal tax rates? Check out how long the average American needs to work each year before they are working for themselves at: http://www.supportingevidence.com/Government/Tax_freedom_day_over_time.html. I can tell you the date for California is quite a bit later in the year than average for the USA, because of our higher than average tax rates.

    Also, take a graphical look at the governor’s proposed 2009-10 budget (http://www.supportingevidence.com/Government/CA_Govt/CA_budget_09-10_proposed/CA_budget_prop_09-10_categories_all_funds.html).
    Can you see any opportunity to improve efficiency by eliminating some of the myriad of committees, commissions, boards, and departments? How can all these groups effective communicate and coordinate the workings of our state government? Impossible!

    I submit to you that government must scale up and down as the economic activity of the state grows and shrinks, just like families and businesses. The state budget needs to shrink back to about the 2006-07 level (http://www.supportingevidence.com/Government/CA_Govt/CA_budget_categories_06-10.html). We need to eliminate the expenses added since then to get our ‘house in order.’ The only organization that can afford over the long haul to continue spending when revenue drops is an organization that can print money: Uncle Sam! See how the economic downturn is not affecting the US Federal government investment in California (http://www.supportingevidence.com/Government/CA_Govt/CA_budget_fed_st_over_time.html). Unfortunately, our kids are going to have to pay that expensive bill back, if they can figure out how.

    Sorry, kids. I did everything I could to be responsible and leave you better off than I had it, but the majority wanted to mortgage your future to make their lives ‘better’. *Sigh*

    Scott
    http://www.SupportingEvidence.com
    ‘worth a thousand words’

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