The conniving crowd of Democrats in Sacramento has set a new standard for monetary malfeasance. It is as if they are padding their statistics to ensure induction into the Tax Collector's Hall of Fame, joining such villainous luminaries as the Sheriff of Nottingham, King George III, and Caesar Augustus.
Governor Davis, Lieutenant Governor Bustamante, and key Democratic members of the legislature are proposing an immediate increase in both the tobacco and income taxes. This plan is putatively scheduled for a vote in a few weeks-before the October 7 recall election. These tax hikes, argue the Democrats, would require only a simple majority vote of each chamber of the legislature.
This is a violation of the California Constitution, which clearly states that tax hikes imposed by "increased rates or changes in methods of computation" must be passed by a two-thirds majority of each legislative chamber. Of course, since when does the rule of law hold any place in the hearts of the Golden State's ruling Democratic junta?
This all started back in June when Governor Davis and Controller Steve Westly, both Democrats, decided that the state's fiscal emergency necessitated a tripling of the car tax by administrative fiat. The two-thirds requirement, they argued, was not operative because Davis and Westly were simply restoring the tax to its previous level before it was slashed during Pete Wilson's administration.
This decree played a role in the recent budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. The GOP hung tough against the Democrats by refusing to support increased taxes. The Democrats caved and finally agreed to a deficit reduction plan that relied on a combination of spending cuts and bond revenues to fill the gap.
The dirty little secret of this deal, however, was the fact that all the major players involved in the negotiations implicitly relied upon the revenues from the illegally imposed car tax in their budget calculations.
Not to worry, many thought. Those in the Republican ranks who, in the end, voted for the budget could salve their consciences. After all, the car tax would eventually be declared unconstitutional by the courts or invalidated by an initiative that is being spearheaded by fiscal warrior State Senator Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks).
In the meantime, however, the recall happened. And the GOP car tax accommodation plan, like most other battle plans, did not survive first contact with the enemy.
The Democrats are running scared from the recall. They are now proposing a plan that, if passed, could be the effective end of constitutional government in California. They are proposing to swap an elimination of the car tax increase for hikes in tobacco and income taxes. They are also claiming that this new plan does not require a two-thirds vote in the legislature because the plan does not increase taxes.
How can this be? Certainly, those who will pay higher income taxes and tobacco taxes will beg to differ. The Democratic answer is that the new income and tobacco taxes are merely replacing revenue that would have been collected anyway by the increased car tax.
The audacity of this plan is shocking. An unconstitutional tax imposed by executive decree will be replaced by a tax imposed by an unconstitutional simple majority. If the people of California abide this blatant disregard for their constitution, they will abide just about anything.
Some members of the GOP are involved in this treachery to the extent that they implicitly relied on the tripling of the car tax in their own budget plans. This should serve as a valuable lesson that compromise is only possible when each side shares at least some basic respect for the rule of law.
The Republicans are in a tough spot. If they fight the tax shift on the grounds that it requires a two-thirds vote, they risk appearing as obstacles to the elimination of the car tax increase. On the other hand, if the GOP allows the increased taxes to go into effect with little protest, then they appear weak in the eyes of their core supporters, which could have a negative effect not only for the recall race but future elections as well.
George Orwell offered the following in his novel 1984: "Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. If that is granted, all else follows." We in the Golden State might adjust this aphorism slightly to proclaim that freedom is the freedom to say that two-thirds means two-thirds. If that is granted, all else will follow.
These are momentous times in the nation's largest state. If we merely shrug at this kind of deviant political behavior, then Americans will find it easier to accept even more malevolent actions in the future. This crisis offers a rare opportunity for a statesman to rise up and proclaim that the rule of law must be upheld and that rule by fiat violates the fundamental principles of American government.