[guest post by JVW]
Well, I think it’s close to official by now: voters of Los Angeles County once again elected to send more of their take-home pay to the government last week when we (or at least those who voted for it) approved Measure H to levy a one-fourth of one percent sales tax for the next ten years in order to “prevent and combat homelessness.” Because this is a local tax initiative, it required a two-thirds majority from voters to pass, and after running nip-and-tuck right at the 2/3 level on election night it would appear that the count of mail-in ballots has safely pushed it beyond the threshold.
This is how it is in California and Los Angeles in the second decade of the century. Pretty much any tax initiative that purports to be “for the homeless” or “for the environment” or for some other progressive cause is assumed to be worthy. What’s more, if you tack on appeals to “help our veterans” like the Measure H supporters cynically did, you are almost assured that the low-information voter will sign on, and adding children, seniors, and battered women to the victim list just helps to gild the lily. After all, what’s a $0.0025 tax on purchases anyway? (Well, if you spend $400 then it is an additional $1 in taxes; if you spend $8,000 on taxable items in the course of a year, you’ve just voted an additional $20 out of your pocket to the government.)
The city of Los Angeles set the stage for their county neighbors this past November by passing Measure HHH which called on the city to issue $1.2 billion in bonds to build between 8,000 and 10,000 permanent units for the homeless, financing it by taxing commercial and residential properties within the city limits an average of $9.64 for every $100,000 in valuation. Facilities for mental health and addiction treatment would also be built with this money, so it’s a safe bet that they will fall well short of 10,000 new units constructed. Measure H was therefore sold as a companion measure which would pay for an army of social workers, addiction counselors, doctors & nurses, and job counselors to work with the homeless while the new housing authorized by HHH was being built. Is anyone surprised that a whole lot of new county employees are going to be hired thanks to these measures? In addition to the usual do-gooder organizations like the United Way, Children’s Defense Fund, and various churches, the measure was unsurprisingly supported by the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, and even the LA Chamber of Commerce, proving that all the fat cats come running inside when they hear the whirr of the social justice blade slicing into the can of taxpayer dough.
Back in November the voters of the Golden State voted to extend the income tax increase on “the rich” (defined as income of at least $263,000 per year for a single filer) which was due to expire this year, reminding us once again of the old adage that there is no such thing as a temporary tax. The state also voted to issue more bonds for school construction and raise the tax on tobacco products. In the same election, Los Angeles city votes passed Measure HHH and Los Angeles County voters passed Measure M which raised the sales tax by one-half of one percent ($1 on every $200 spent) to fund repairs on highways and roads and improvements in public transportation. With Democrats now holding supermajorities in both the California Assembly and Senate, legislators are now contemplating raising gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees, and perhaps even finding the nerve to take on the Sauron to their Frodo, Proposition 13.
History may record this as a turning point for the Golden State. Do progressives here accept that there are limits to how much money you can demand from your citizens and how many public services a sober government will try to provide, or are we on our way to being Greece, where rent-seeking and tax-avoidance became a way of life, or perhaps even Venezuela, where arrogant totalitarians who believed they were serving the poor and marginalized wrecked a prosperous nation through greed, corruption, and incompetence? I guess it will be interesting to see, but day by day I’m losing optimism.