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.”
The 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 care about the amount of taxes that most 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 live in the houses that they own – 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 care – and has never 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 taxes on owner-occupied property 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 good reasons to think we’re pretty damn stupid.