Tax Raiser's Recipe

Everyone in California wants to raise taxes.

Well, not everyone, but lots of rich people who worry, with good reason, that the state government doesn't have enough revenues to prevent disastrous cutbacks in education.

The trouble is: they're all trying to cook up a different tax increase through the initiative process.

Jerry Brown wants to raise income taxes on the rich and sales taxes on goods.

The billionaire-backed Think Long Committee wants to establish a sales tax for services (while cutting other taxes).

Another billionaire wants to raise taxes for energy. A billionaire's daughter wants to raise rich people's taxes for local schools.

Others want to put a tax on oil extraction to pay for universities. Some want to increase commercial property taxes.

There's no way Californians are going to agree to all of these increases, especially if all this tax medicine ends up on the November 2012 ballot.

Californians also may be reluctant to pour more tax dollars into an obviously broken budget system, since they don't know what they'll actually get.

So here's a recipe for raising taxes in six easy steps:

1. Forget about your tax increase proposal and push like hell for rollbacks in public employee pensions.

As Gov. Brown recently pointed out, without pension savings, voters are unlikely to raise taxes.

People may want to pay more taxes if they get more, better services -- not if the money is going to be gobbled up by pensioners. What's necessary is a rollback in the pensions of not only future workers but current ones.

2. Convince your public employee union friends to scream like hell against the pension push. Voters don't believe the pension reform proposals are real because the howls against them aren't loud enough. Unions, if they want more taxes, need to ramp this up. At the same time, those unions should quietly tell elected officials to go ahead and go hard after pensions. Yes, it's misdirection--but it's necessary if you want taxes.

3. Delay your tax proposal until 2014.

Convincing people to raise taxes quickly, at a time with so many other proposals on the ballot, is too hard. Better to take your time, and spend the next three years meeting with people -- particularly opponents -- about what you're up to.  It still won't be easy, but your chances will be better.

4. Tell everyone that your tax increase won't touch them.

Even if it's not true. People want someone else to pay their taxes for them.

5. Draft your measure to promise the money raised by the taxes to as many people as possible.

It's terrible policy, and makes it harder to balance the budget. But people love gifts.

6. When you lose even after doing all those things, realize that doing tax increases -- or any kind of fiscal initiative -- is too hard politicallly and too dangerous as a policy matter.

Spend your time working for a redesign of the budget and governance system -- so that tax increases can be made in the legislature, not at the ballot by people like you.

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