Monday, July 11, 2011

The LA Times' George Skelton Offers Brain-Dead Analysis of California Taxes

One of the downsides of writing a libertarian-politics blog in California is the ever-present danger of destroying important brain cells as you read the work of columnists at the state's largest paper, the Los Angeles Times. As a case in point, consider this masterpiece from last weekend, in which George Skelton presents a tour de force of incoherence while writing about the state's vehicle license fee.

After meandering through the tired boilerplate of liberal California pundits ("there is no other honest choice but to starve college students, state parks and poor grandma," "Republicans also passed up a rare opportunity to bargain," blah blah blah), Skelton gets to his point: the vehicle license fee is too low. He walks us through its history: the golden age when the Legislature normalized the fee at 1.75% in 1935, raising it in 1948 to 2%, then the dark clouds that gathered in 1998, when Gov. Pete Wilson and the Legislature cut it to 1.5%, followed by misunderstood-genius Gray Davis's yo-yo-ing of the fee down to 1.3% in 2000 and 0.65% in 2001 and up to 2% in 2003, before Hummer-driving philistine Governor Schwarzenegger slashed it back to 0.65% as his first act in office. Trouble was, the Kindergarten Cop wasn't so good with budgeting for expenses; he continued to backfill local government budgets to the tune of $4 billion, borrowing the difference. Skelton closes with yet another typical flourish of liberal California pundits: blaming the selfish, awful voters for not being receptive to another hike in the fee. "These days, Californians think that ludicrously low car taxes — and all property taxes — are their birthright. We used to think that our birthrights were affordable higher education, smooth transportation systems and beautiful state parks."

We have two thoughts in response to this nonsense. First off, it doesn't follow logically that cutting the vehicle license fee was responsible for the recurring hole in California's budget, which Skelton is clearly implying. Are we really supposed to believe that the state's finances would otherwise be healthy if the license fee hadn't been cut? We're not aware of a law that bound Schwarzenegger to continue overspending even after cutting taxes; would we have a problem if he'd just cut local governments off? More to the point, state government spending went up 60% between 2006 and 2010; are we really supposed to believe that that had no effect on the structural deficit? Worst of all, Skelton paints this as a false choice between higher taxes and starving grandmothers. Strictly speaking, it's been a choice between higher taxes and ensuring that DMV clerks can draw six-figure pensions in their middle-age years. Our second thought pertains to the "birthright" horses**t. For one thing, California is one of the costliest places in America to own a vehicle. For another, all the "soak the rich" rhetoric aside, California has the most regressive taxes in the United States. We certainly have more of a birthright to money that we earned than anyone has to benefits paid for with stolen money. Higher education, great parks, and reliable public transportation might all be nice, but you're delusional if you really believe you're entitled to them by virtue of being alive. As George Carlin once said about people who don't feel they're needs are being met, "Drop some of your needs!"


  1. You could say the same thing about the bullet train between two dusty cowtowns, or handing out sweetheart deals to the prison guards union that helped elect him, or passing laws that make it impossible to fire teachers, or funding of impossibly expensive stem cell research that now begins to look like a positive albatross.

    Nah, just ignore all that stuff.

  2. All true, all true. And I've blogged about almost all that stuff. I guess some train wrecks are so gruesome you really have to turn away from the details.

  3. Some states annual car taxes are well under $100. If California's car taxes are "ludicrously" low, what adjective should we apply to the taxes of other states?

  4. @randian: I'm not sure. Was there a level past "ludicrous" in Spaceballs?