According to Texas Republicans, California is an over-regulatin’, over-spendin’ hellhole of limousine liberals and bongo-playing hippies – the very antithesis of the lean, mean rugged individualism of the Lone Star State.
(Or as Gov. Perry told NPR: “If you want to live in a state that has high taxes, high regulations — that is favorable to smoking marijuana and gay marriage — then move to California.”)
With California’s deep economic woes, the smell of schadenfreude wafting from certain Texas GOP-ers is thicker than a Phish fan’s patchouli. The smugness, though, has slipped a bit – just a bit – as Texas now grapples with a $27 billion budget deficit, comparable to California’s. Still, given the dim view of California’s model of government, why would any Texas Republican want to copy the Golden State?
Today, the powerful Senate Finance Committee voted out Senate Joint Resolution 12, a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature to pass any tax bill.
Already, the state constitution prohibits a state income tax or statewide property tax, although the constitution can be amended by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Already, the state consitution (Article 8, Section 24) makes it difficult to pass an income tax, requiring that a majority of the registered voters approve it in a statewide referendum. There are of course many other types of taxes – gasoline taxes, franchise taxes, sales taxes, oil-and-gas taxes, etc.
Authored by the millionaire tea partier Sen. Dan Patrick, SJR 12 would extend this two-thirds hurdle to any new tax or even an increase to an existing tax. (Notably, it exempts fees, which are frequently taxes by a different name.)
SJR 12 creates precisely the fiscal straight-jacket that has locked California into a budgetary prison. For all its reputation as a liberal state, California’s budget woes are, in part, the result of a very “conservative” measure.
Here’s how Time magazine explains it:
And at the root of California’s misery lies Proposition 13, the antitax measure that ignited the Reagan Revolution and the conservative era. In Washington, the Reagan-Bush era is over. But in California, the conservative legacy lives on.
Proposition 13 was the brainchild of the late Howard Jarvis. The antitax crusader was a policy genius not unlike Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both shared an affinity for designing deep structural change that, once embedded in the political system, is nearly impossible to alter without a massive change of heart by voters.
Jarvis created a similarly impregnable institution. When he rode the wave of anger over skyrocketing property-tax assessments to pass Proposition 13 in 1978, he included a two-thirds vote requirement for the passage of any new taxes in California — an insurmountable obstacle built on populist allergy to any kind of new levy.
Beholden to a tax-averse electorate, the state’s liberals and moderates have attempted to live with Proposition 13 while continuing to provide the state services Californians expect — freeways, higher education, prisons, assistance to needy families and, very important, essential funding to local government and school districts that vanished after the antitax measure passed. Now, however, that balancing act no longer seems possible.
Of course, if your goal is to “starve the beast,” what better way than to make it virtually impossible to raise taxes? Ironically, Sen. Patrick is the same gentleman who every two years tries to abolish the Senate tradition of requiring a two-thirds vote to take up any bill. He hasn’t had too much success with that – the voter ID bill excepted – and it’s doubtful that SJR 12 will make it out of the Senate. Why? Because of that pesky two-thirds rule.