Few state lawmakers felt they had accomplished more in the Legislature’s last regular session than the Republicans who make up just over one-third of both the Senate and Assembly.
They went home proud of the fact they had kept their pledge and assessed no new taxes, as Democrats and a very few of their GOP cohorts did last winter.
They felt happy that no more of them would be subjected to the perils of possible recall campaigns and serious 2010 primary election challenges like those that either now afflict or will soon hit most of the dissidents among them who voted for February’s budget compromise, with its temporary increases in income, sales and vehicle taxes.
But did they really avoid new taxes? That depends on how you define a tax and whether you’ll have to pay it.
For there’s now no question that tens of thousands of state employees are being furloughed regularly on Fridays. Republican officials may not much like state employees – except themselves and the many aides they employ – but state workers are Californians, too, and when they are forced to take unpaid days off work, it costs them plenty. About 10 percent of their income.
But that’s not a tax, say Republican lawmakers whose refusal to increase levies on things like cigarettes necessitated the furloughs. Still, their national party, in one of its blizzard of autumn press releases opposing any health care changes that might cost money, offered this definition of a tax: “A charge, usually of money, imposed by authority…for public purposes.”
Under that Republican definition, how do the lost wages of furloughed state employees not count as a tax?
It will soon be much the same for students in both the University of California and California State University systems. UC regents appear sure to increase student fees during this school year, most likely by about 32 percent, pushing it over $10,000 per year. Together with expenses for room, board and books, the cost of a UC education will shortly top $25,000 per year. CSU is not too far behind.
By the Republican definition, this is only not a tax if you’re not a student. If you are a student or parent of one, chances are you’ll soon be paying about $3,000 more than you did last year. That’s a lot more than almost anyone will pay under last February’s temporary budget-balancing levies, but Republican lawmakers will never admit it’s a tax, even if that’s how it feels to those who must pay it.
After all, the GOP legislators might say, students can attend community colleges for far less, if they choose. Or simply not go to school at all. But those are not real options for anyone who has already completed at least two years of college level work or those who want to be teachers or professionals of any type. It is simple reality that college degrees are required for almost all well-paying jobs outside union-dominated trades. Which makes the new UC and CSU fees taxes on tens of thousands of Californians.
So the GOP lawmakers lived up to their no-new-taxes mantra – unless you happen to be one of those forced to pay extra because of their decisions.
It’s the same for anyone visiting state parks and beaches. Entrance fees are already way up, at $11 per car for most parks last month, and rising. Camping fees will be much higher, too, almost comparable with the rent at nearby motels. But no one has to visit state parks, some Republicans say. So these are voluntary fees, not taxes. Yet, some activities can only take place in open spaces and many Californians believe they need time in those spaces to cope with modern life. Last year, state parks and beaches received about 50 million visits from Californians. Those people will now be paying more. For them, these are taxes, by the GOP’s own definition.
Plus, the state Public Utilities Commission appears about to allow electric companies to increase their charges to compensate for expenses incurred in restoring power after wildfires. This charge will be paid by almost every consumer and business for a public purpose, a charge that might be less if there had been some new statewide levies. So this, too, will be a tax on most Californians – necessitated in part by the Republican refusal to okay other levies.
All of which means that anyone who believes Republican claims that the party’s adamant stance, which led some to call it “the party of no,” somehow allowed Californians to escape new expenses, is whistling past the graveyard.
The bottomline is thatmillions of Californians will be paying more for services they now enjoy. No new taxes? Only if you’re a Republican legislator.