Conflicting Tax Increase Proposals: A Recipe for Defeat

Fiscal conservatives are giddy over the situation

"Too many cooks spoil the broth."

Nowhere is that proverb more applicable than in the current wave of efforts to increase revenues to the California state treasury.

Stifled by Republican intransigence in the legislature and fearful for further decay in the state's infrastructure, several groups are now in the process of securing signatures for the November 2012 ballot propositions dedicated to new revenues.

They are reacting to the state's inadequate funding for K-12 public education, higher education, prison realignment, local government public safety, and other basic infrastructure needs.

These groups seek to correct what they perceive as an imbalance between revenue and spending needs. Yet, collectively, they may be bringing about their own demise.

Right now, there are at least five proposed new revenue initiatives in the works.

Depending upon whether they are statutes or constitutional amendments, the measures will require either 504,760 or 807,615 valid signatures, 5 percent or 8 percent of the number of individuals who cast votes in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

The measures are designed to raise anywhere between $1 billion and $10 billion annually, with varying combinations of tax sources. Some are permanent and others are temporary, but all would increase taxes from one or more segments of the state.

Judging from the clout behind these proposed measures, most, if not all, are likely to qualify for November.

Fiscal conservatives are giddy over the situation. Rather than fret over the several revenue increase proposals, they have responded with their own initiative. Organized by the Small Business Action Committee and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the measure would freeze future state spending at the figure set for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, with modest adjustments for inflation and population increases. Inasmuch as the 2010-2011 baseline is about 30 percent down from three years earlier, this initiative, if passed, would keep California at record-low spending levels. 

If the past is any guide to the future, those seeking to raise revenues will be in trouble come November.

Voters don't need much to be confused. The many voices promoting these increases are likely to leave voters throwing their hands in the air rather than supporting any one or number of them.

Meanwhile, the simple clarity of the single anti-tax increase proposition that is differentiated from the others may well generate a common sense appeal to maintain the current course.

In elections, nothing is more difficult to secure than change because change agents must convince the voters that the promise of the future will be an improvement of the known present. With so many change agents competing for the public's ear, don't be surprised if the public simply turns away.

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