Big Daddy

Ask Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,

I just finished reading the entire report from the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, and I’m pumped. Could we really be on the verge of eliminating the corporations tax, flattening the income tax and replacing it with a net receipts tax?

–Optimistic in Orange

Hey Optimistic,

I do admire your optimism. It has a certain quaintness, a certain charm. And I admire the fact that you actually read and know what’s in the proposal, really I do.

The point is, however, that you’re missing the point. I see that the governor’s office decided to ignore all the bad press on the commission’s release this week, and instead opted to send around a batch of quotes from everyone from George Schultz and Dianne Feinstein to Willie Brown. And if you read the quotes carefully, none of them actually endorsed a single word of the commission’s report.

No, they all admired the hard work the commission did, and agreed that our tax system is broken, but nobody came out and said, “This is the blueprint for our tax future.”

Maybe that’s because it isn’t.

It seems fitting, given the fact that the governor chose to quote Willie Brown this week, that I do the same. Once upon a time, there was an Assemblyman from Poway named Jan Goldsmith. Jan was a heck of a nice guy and owner of one of Sacramento’s worst toupees. And that’s saying something.

Well, some time in the early 1990s, Willie was still speaker and Goldsmith was carrying a bill that had gotten a lot of press around the state that would have legalized ferrets as pets. Willie didn’t like the bill, and made his disdain for the measure clear. When asked about the prospects of Goldsmith’s bill to pass the Assembly, Willie quipped, “That bill’s as dead as the thing on his head.”

I’ve gotta imagine this report has about the same prospects, in purely Goldsmithian terms. Even the governor has backed away from wanting the recommendations to be voted on en masse in the Legislature.

Sure, everybody said nice things, or not too mean of things, when the report was released, but nobody thinks this is the answer to our prayers. The problem with this report, and the dozens of reports like it that litter our state archives, is that they don’t take politics into account. The reason our state tax system is so broken is not because we don’t have lots of ideas about how to make it better. It’s because we don’t have the political will to fix it.

Folks on the right and the left have carved out their respective pieces, and unless the solution makes their pieces bigger, the political prognosis is grim. The anti-tax groups don’t want anything that will increase taxes on anybody. Liberals don’t want to do anything that would diminish existing state revenues, even though they’re as unstable as Kanye West at an awards show.

So, Optimistic, keep that chin up, and keep on reading those reports. And maybe someday, somebody will come up with a way to actually clean up some of the political mess that we all see around us, and remain powerless to change.

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