Thursday, May 20, 2010

Prop 13 Irony

When conservative Californians succeeded in putting Proposition 13 on the ballot and passing it in 1978, they probably couldn't have imagined how it would play out for their electoral prospects.

Prop 13 lowered property taxes and capped the rate of property tax increases at a time of sharply escalating home prices and imposed a 2/3 (67%) majority requirement for raising statewide and local special taxes in the state.

Today, we have a blue state with a red Constitution. Currently the State Assembly is composed of 49 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and 1 Independent or 62% Democrats. The State Senate is composed of 25 Democrats and 13 Republicans or 66% Democrats.

California currently faces a $19.1 billion budget deficit. Now here's the irony. Normally, people elect Republicans because they want lower taxes, but in California it's so hard to raise taxes, that there's hardly a need to elect Republicans. In a way, they are victims of their own success.

If taxes could be raised with a majority vote, which I think makes much more sense than the current system, which is biased towards cutting public services (which still only requires a majority vote), then the solid majorities of Democrats in the Legislature would raise taxes to maintain and expand public services. If people didn't like that, they would have a reason to elect more Republicans.

As things stand now, nothing gets done. There aren't votes to raise taxes or cut spending and the deficits continue, undermining dreams of better public services and lower taxes as more and more of the budget is eaten up by interest payments on the state's debt. Everyone knows, or should know, that this is unsustainable. Yet, how will it end?

Maybe we'll find some more gold nuggets. Or maybe, someone will launch a ballot initiative that thoughtfully amends Prop 13 . . .

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