By Jon Coupal – Originally published November 27, 2022. Re-published February 16, 2023
Thanksgiving has always been a time of reflection, both on the good and bad.
As taxpayer advocates, those of us at Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have a lot to criticize. California has the highest income tax rate, highest state sales tax rate and highest gas tax in America. And despite claims that Proposition 13 has decimated property tax revenue, California ranks 14th out of 50 states in per capita property tax collections.
On top of these burdensome taxes, California consistently ranks at the bottom among states as a place to do business.
Heavy-handed bureaucracies issuing mindless regulations distinguish our state from those that foster and encourage free enterprise and entrepreneurship.
Few can argue that California has not declined in many ways in the last 40 years.
Demographers have measured the loss of the middle class, increasingly making the state home only to the very wealthy and those just struggling to get by.
Crime, homelessness, illegal immigration and drug addiction are all out of control and our political leadership is either unwilling or unable to address these serious problems. It is especially disheartening to see more and more of our friends and family members leave the state even though many would prefer to stay if they could afford to.
Those of us who arrived in California a few decades ago continue to work to restore what we remember about this state. However, in the spirit of giving thanks, and despite all our complaints about the politics of this state, we must not lose our perspective. The Golden State is, unquestionably, very tarnished, but underneath it is still golden (or at least can be again).
From the most expansive view, the average Californian is still fortunate. First, as citizens of the United States, we are far more free than the vast majority of humanity. We are protected by a vibrant Bill of Rights guaranteeing us freedom to worship, speak and assemble. And our elections, while contentious, are mostly free of the sort of violence that is found in other countries experiencing regime changes.
As for California, the recent election was certainly a mixed bag. Nothing much has changed, leaving us with the dysfunction and corruption that accompanies one-party rule. Examples of waste, fraud and abuse remain legion.
But on the positive side of the ledger, voters wisely rejected Proposition 30, a tax increase on high-earning Californians to fund electric vehicle subsidies. Although the tax would have been imposed only on very wealthy individuals, voters are showing hostility to tax increases and skepticism about how the money will be spent.
We’re also thankful for the wisdom of the original Progressives in the early 1900s who gave Californians the right of direct democracy. Armed with the tools of initiative, referendum and recall, Californians have ready access to powers to control government and corrupt politicians that most states lack.
We’re especially grateful that voters exercised the power of initiative in 1978 passing the still iconic Proposition 13, which has allowed millions of Californians to stay in their homes during their senior years. Despite California’s increasing reputation as anti-taxpayer, Prop. 13 remains highly popular with voters across the political spectrum.
We’re also thankful that voters will have the opportunity to expand taxpayer protections in 2024 by the imminent qualification of the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act. This proposed constitutional amendment will restore many of Prop. 13’s taxpayer protections that have been weakened by a hostile judiciary. It will also give statewide voters the right to vote on all statewide tax increases, even those enacted by the Legislature.
Finally, we are especially thankful for the members of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association who, through their generous donations, sustain our ability to advocate for fiscal sanity in the courts, the Legislature and in the media. It’s a challenge to be a taxpayer advocate in this state, but the support we receive from our hundreds of thousands of members shows us how important it is to keep fighting for everyday Californians.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.