The problem with the state budget, so the Governor reasoned, was not that politicians had spent too much or that government agencies are wasteful. No, no, Californians aren’t taxed enough – they’ve been given an “unfair” break on their property taxes via the state’s famous, 32-year-old “Proposition 13,” and if that could be undone, then the state budget would be fixed.
Proposition 13, in case you’ve forgotten, was a landmark ballot proposition that drew a record number of voters to the precincts in 1978. The law passed in a landslide, and imposed a statewide limit on the rate at which local counties and cities could levy property taxes.
I remember the fight over Proposition 13 quite well. I recall the night my father and I attended a special “informational meeting” at my elementary school, presented by my school’s Principal. “If Proposition 13 passes,” the Principal reasoned, “we won’t have enough money to afford textbooks and classroom supplies…some schools in our district might even have to close down..”
“Ma’am, with all due respect, you don’t have enough text books now,” my father replied, “and property taxes have been escalating in our county for twenty-five years. The problem is not a lack of funds, it’s a mismanagement of funds…”
My late father, whether he knew it or not, was creating a “teachable moment,” and it was an economics lesson that I never forgot. My school’s Principal, of course, was doing what government employees typically do, and arguing for higher taxes and more government spending. And she was using the same “talking points” that Governor Brown had been using at the time, as he traveled up and down the state begging for a “no” vote on Proposition 13.
Yet after the proposition’s landslide victory on June 6 of 1978, Brown changed his tune, agreed to realign California government in such a way as to comply with the property tax limitations, and thus won re-election handily in November of that year.
Today, Governor Brown oversees a state debt that is more than twice the size of California’s annual operating budget back in the late 70’s. And it seems that the “early 1978” version of Jerry Brown is about to re-emerge.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.