Voters should leave critical tax decisions to Legislature

Editor in Chief

In the same way that we shouldn’t let California prisoners decide whether they want to remain incarcerated or be executed, we should not allow California taxpayers an opportunity to decide something as insanely serious as Proposition 76.

Proposition 76, arguably the most far reaching of any of the initiatives on the Nov. 8 California special election ballot, would produce a state spending cap based on average previous years’ revenue growths and “precedent.”

The initiative would also change the amount of money guaranteed to California public education as dictated by Proposition 98, and give the governor special power to make midyear budget cuts if he or she judges the state to be in a fiscal crisis.

If we don’t do this, it is argued, if we don’t curb public spending before California gets deeper and deeper into the red, we’re going to “suffer our own future,” whatever that means. Essentially, this proposition is asking voters to choose between a state spending cap and probable general taxation, in various forms, down the line. The choice is obvious.

But to ask voters to determine if they want to pay taxes, while not unprecedented, is nonetheless goofy by anyone’s definition. If professors were to take class polls to determine if homework should be assigned, or if doctors went solely on a toddler’s crying to determine whether or not a shot would be given, we’d be in trouble.

One could contend that California voters are not children or students, and are more than capable of determining on their own where their money goes.

But they’re not. The “progressive” surge of populism in California has not allowed for the Legislature to do its job, and we’re reaping the benefits of that lunacy.

The aftermath of Proposition 13, passed in 1978, is evidence of this. This landmark initiative stunted tax revenue in a state that can now not clearly afford it. With increases in property tax revenue frozen at ancient levels and general tax increases protected by a rule that mandates everyone and their mother in the Legislature vote in favor of a revenue hike, California social programs and education have jeopardized and lost.

Were it not for the dot com boom, which sparked our economy, I wonder what California would have looked like following this initiative’s existence for almost 30 years.

The point is, when given the choice to pay taxes or not to pay taxes, at least in the age of George W. Bush – it wasn’t always like this; see Proposition 98 – people are going to vote with their pocketbooks. They have no reason not to. Not every group of voters is informed enough to consider their future rationally, which is why we have the Legislature in the first place. It’s there for a reason: complex public policy. Proposition 71 proves that.

The stem cell research initiative passed by voters in November 2004 allowed for the state to try becoming the leader in stem cell research and science. As the state-by-state approach seemingly took over on several progressive issues, like gay rights, we seemed to be ahead of the times on stem cell research. Good for us. Hurrah populism.

But as great as this sounded, this proposition was inherently flawed, and we’re experiencing that today. Besides the trouble in finalizing the details of a plan – who, what, where, when and how, basically – voters thought was already rock-solid, we’re now finding out from reports that the promised tax revenue from royalties the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine should have provided might not occur. It’s now possible for medical companies and federal tax policy to prevent these royalties from ever flowing into the general state revenue pool. If that’s really true, then yikes.

California voters cannot discern between how cool a cure for cancer sounds and the responsible nature of fiscal tightness. We’re children, and though the Legislature is not our parents, it still has a role to play. We should let lawmakers do their jobs before we get any further down on this crazy road of populism that’s already made us look a fool.

For this reason, and for the reason that California education would be starved into non-operation by Proposition 76’s passage, I urge anybody able to get through this 700-word tax-loving rant to vote no on any initiative the governor has ever touched. Amen.

Ryan Denham can be reached at