Dear Big Daddy,
It has become crystal clear that Democrats in Sacramento do not wish to recognize the benefits and the legacy of a policy that has not only lifted an unbearable tax burden off the backs of so many Californians, but was also approved by a large majority of California voters. If they are unwilling to even acknowledge Prop 13, how can we be certain they will protect it?
–Assemblyman Bob Huff
Dear Lucky 13,
Whoever it was who said “necessity is the mother of invention,” I have a suspicion that by “necessity” they meant “sheer panic bordering on white knuckle terror”—but went with the short version just to be catchy. Remember, I was state treasurer thirty years ago. I’m credited with revolutionizing state financing, from turning our state into a major market investor to creative use of bond instruments to moving money around like an obsessive-compulsive octopus to hide our budget foibles.
Prop. 13 sure helped me tap into my inner Ponzi (no kids, not the guy on “Happy Days”). Not that this couldn’t be gratifying. After running the legislature from before Beatlemania until after the Summer of Love, heading to the treasurer’s office at the dawn of the disco era seemed like a let-down. That is, until I realized that I got to play the Godfather, and it was like I had a daughter getting married every day. Prop. 13 meant a lot more outstretched hands from local government asking to be fed. Suddenly I was King again, my power measured in block grants.
But with great power comes a great big prostate. A few years of dealing with the mewing kittens of local government while I was always a few milk saucers short of being able to satisfy everyone, next thing I know the less intelligently-designed parts of me started to buckle and pop. When my urine stream started to mirror the property tax revenue stream, I knew I was in trouble.
OK, I can’t really claim that Prop. 13 killed me. There might have been some booze, cigars, shapely women and even shapelier steaks pitching in to the rainbow coalition of my demise. But my point is, to California Republicans, the late 1970s are like the faded, sepia-toned glory days of a once great sports franchise. The Gipper was about the head to Washington in all his pompadoured glory, the brief hippie era we’d hosted had given way to cynicism and sellout, and not long after Jerry Moonbeam levitated onto the gubernatorial stage the GOP managed to tether him to earth with the mother of all tax revolts.
To ask a Democrat to honor Prop. 13 is like asking a paraplegic to celebrate the anniversary of their car accident. Even if you buy a card that says “congratulations on another year of sobriety,” it’s still probably not going to go over too well. Dems in most other states don’t have to deal with an annual budget process that’s like being stuck in a straightjacket without a safe word. More to the point, Prop. 13 saves a lot of money for big business and longtime homeowners—i.e. Republicans. For lots of other people, it means inflated housing prices, longer commutes and crappier schools.
The CA GOP may not have drowned the government beast in a bathtub yet, but every May and June he sure does get waterboarded. And don’t try to pretend you guys don’t enjoy it. Not that I can blame you. When you spend all year getting spanked, it’s hard to hold back on the rare occasions you have the paddle in your hand.
As has been widely pointed out, I’m partly to blame. I had to open my mouth about the “obscene” $5 billion surplus we were sitting on at the time. We sure took care of that problem. And that sure helps you GOP guys with your main goal—preventing the spread of laws. Well, the ones that cost money, if not the ones preventing sex offenders from living within 93 million miles of the sun.
Polls still show majority support for Prop. 13. I bet no taxes, free gasoline and ice cream, and a complimentary Wii for everyone would also be quite popular. To translate this into politics, yes, they like tax cuts—and they like government programs at the same time. Don’t take my word for it, just check out the latest Field Poll. Folks want to cut the budget without actually cutting anything. It should come as no surprise when they can’t understand car payments or adjustable rate mortgages.
Though come to think of it, neither have some of our politicians. But that’s a subject for another column…stay tuned.