I listened recently to Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, on the Los Angeles NPR radio program â€œAir Talk with Larry Mantle.â€
The specific topic was the tax increase ballot measures, such as Proposition 1A, that were part of last monthâ€™s budget deal and are coming before California’s voters in a special election on May 19.
But Coupal wanted to talk about Californiaâ€™s taxes in general, and he made the claim that Californiaâ€™s taxes are the highest in the nation.
Wait a minute, I thought.
If Coupal is correct about Californians being so outrageously overtaxed — more than 30 years after the passage of Prop 13 â€“ isnâ€™t he admitting that both the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and its primary accomplishment â€“ Prop 13 â€“ have been dismal failures?
In fact, neither Coupal nor the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association really cares about the amount of taxes that Californians pay.
What they care about is the kind of taxes and who pays them.
And that’s far from the same thing as caring about taxes in general, or the taxes paid by the average Californian.
The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Prop 13, was initially a project of Los Angelesâ€™ biggest apartment landlords.Â Jarvis himself was a lobbyist for the Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association â€“ initially concentrating his efforts in attempting to destroy rent control — and ran the campaign for Prop 13 from the Apartment Owners Associationâ€™s office.
The goal of Jarvis and his allies was not primarily to limit the taxes paid by Californiaâ€™s homeowners â€“ at least not those who actually lived in the houses that they owned â€“ or to limit the taxes paid by middle class Californians.
Instead, the goal of Jarvis, the anti-tax Republicans â€“ and of Prop 13 â€“ was to limit the taxes paid by the largest and richest commercial landowners and landlords.
By that measure â€“ and only by that measure — his work and the work of his successors such Jon Coupal — has been a tremendous success.
Of course, as a direct result of Prop 13â€™s cap on business and commercial property taxes â€“ and its equal treatment of all property taxes regardless of the kind of property owned â€“ the rest of our taxes have increased.
In particular, Californians have been pummeled by increasing regressive taxes, such as the sales tax, the gasoline tax, and the vehicle registration tax.
But the Republican anti-tax movement doesnâ€™t really care â€“ and never have cared — about those kinds of taxes.
And by talking about taxes as though all taxes were the same and applied equally to everyone, the Republican anti-tax movement continues to protect the giant landlords whose taxes theyâ€™ve keep down and to bamboozle the middle class voters whose taxes continue to rise.
The next time you hear one of the anti-tax Republicans â€“ or an avid John and Ken Show listener — strike a phony populist pose as they complain about Californiaâ€™s high taxes, ask them this:
How have the Republican anti-tax crusadersÂ limited taxes on the middle class or the average Californian?
Why do they make no distinction between owner-occupied property taxes and taxes on business, commercial and landlord property?
Why do they insist on making no distinction between progressive taxes â€“ which require the richest Californians to pay more â€“ and regressive taxes â€“ which require us all to pay the same?
When you donâ€™t get an answer to these questions, ask yourself this one:
How stupid do they think we are?
Based on their success in protecting the landlords and the rich by foisting California’s tax burden on the middle class, I’d say they have reason to think we’re pretty damn stupid.