Last month, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) took to the House floor to proclaim that California’s Proposition 13 — which requires that a two-thirds majority of the state legislature approve any tax increase — should be a “guiding light” for the nation. And Lungren is evidently not the only one who believes crippling a state’s ability to craft a budget is a good thing.
In a column yesterday, the Wall Street Journal’s Stephen Moore — no stranger to nonsensical economics — heaped praise onto Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who is calling for Texas to adopt a Prop. 13-type measure:
On Wednesday, Mr. Perry moved to seal the deal with conservatives by calling for a new constitutional set of protections for taxpayers. Call it a Texas-style “taxpayer bill or rights.” Mr. Perry wants the state’s constitution amended to require a two-thirds vote requirement of the legislature for any tax hikes. He also wants state spending capped at the rate of annual population growth plus inflation.
This is certainly a nice-sounding populist measure. But it’s just one more instance of Republicans advocating an approach to budgeting that is not at all serious.
As Time’s Kevin O’Leary wrote, Prop. 13 lies “at the root of California’s misery,” leaving it no choice but to cut its budget to ribbons during the economic downturn. California has had to gut public education, slash social services and health care programs, close prisons, and lay off record numbers of public employees.
How does all of this budget cutting tie into Prop. 13? Well, as Harold Meyerson noted, the Republican minority in Sacramento “has refused in good times as well as bad to raise business or other taxes (increasing the tobacco tax, for instance, has failed each of the past 14 times it has come up for a vote).” Meyerson added that California’s “wealthiest 1 percent, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, pays just 7.4 percent of their income to the state, while the poorest Californians pay 10.2 percent.”
And yet, nothing can be done to either tax the wealthy at a higher rate or increase sin taxes because, as Paul Krugman pointed out, California’s “Republican rump retains enough seats in the Legislature to block any responsible action.” So the state is left in an untenable position, and reduced to asking the federal government for support. Is that the sort of situation that Perry and his cheerleaders find attractive?
There are legitimate differences between responsible conservatives and liberals on how to deal with taxation, but as one of those responsible conservatives, Bruce Bartlett, wrote, the right has to “accept the necessity of higher revenues.” “Instead of opposing any tax hike, I think it makes more sense for conservatives to figure out how best to raise the additional revenue that will be raised in any event,” he added.
But instead, we get the likes of Perry, Lungren, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), and a right-wing that demonizes the very notion of any tax, any time, for any reason. It doesn’t leave a lot of hope for responsible budgeting going forward.