Opinion: Another Day, Another Tax Or Fee Hike In California
Opinion column by Susan Shelley, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
July 28, 2018
If it feels like every day brings another tax increase, rate increase or fee hike in California, that’s because it does.
What is going on in this state?
For all the happy-talk about a budget surplus, a booming state economy and a brimming rainy-day fund, California is drowning in debt.
In January, the Hoover Institution calculated that the collective debt that California taxpayers owe public pension funds is $769 billion, which works out to more than $60,000 per household.
You won’t get the bill directly. That might cause a surge of voter turnout, which could be harmful to the incumbent politicians who have run up these debts.
The bill for pensions is paid by the state, counties and cities with the tax money you’re already paying. When there isn’t enough left in the treasury to pay for everything else, the politicians place their index fingers thoughtfully on their chins and think of a way to raise taxes.
Because California has the initiative process and voters have used it to shut down the schemes of overspending politicians, it’s not as easy to raise taxes in this state as it used to be. Since Proposition 13 in 1978, tax increases have required a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and local taxes must be approved by voters. Since Proposition 218 in 1996, “fees” require voter approval unless they’re for trash, water or sewer service. Since Proposition 26 in 2010, it has been illegal to overcharge for government services in order to generate surplus funds for other spending.
Politicians have played games to get around these taxpayer protections, but increasingly, taxpayers are fighting back.
Last week, the city of Los Angeles and the L.A. Department of Water and Power were sued by Consumer Watchdog and Jack Humphreville, president of the Neighborhood Council Coalition’s DWP Advocacy Committee, over the city’s practice of grabbing 8 percent of the gross revenue that utility customers pay for electricity, $241 million last year. The lawsuit says the transfer is a violation of Proposition 26.
Utility bills can be full of hidden taxes.
The City Council of Long Beach put a measure on the June ballot to allow the transfer of 12 percent of the gross revenues of the water, sewer and gas utilities to the city general fund.
It also allows the city to raise utility rates to make sure there’s enough money to transfer.
Long Beach voters approved Measure M following a campaign that critics say included misleading messages from city officials and the illegal use of public funds for campaign advocacy.
Four Long Beach residents have filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission.
Both an FPPC complaint and a lawsuit have been filed against L.A. County by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association over the spending of almost a million dollars of public funds on ads in support of Measure H, the 2017 sales tax increase to fund homeless services.
But the county is doubling down on the strategy. The Board of Supervisors has authorized $11 million for an “education” campaign promoting the stormwater tax four of its members recently voted to put on the November ballot.
On that same ballot, state lawmakers are asking voters to approve another $14 billion in new debt.
They say the money is urgently needed for water projects, veterans’ housing and children’s hospitals.
Of course. If they told you they needed it for pensions, you’d throw them out of office.
Susan Shelley is a columnist and editorial writer for the Southern California News Group. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.