California taxpayer watchdog visits Pleasant Hill

California’s top taxpayer watchdog, Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation, tried to sound upbeat in his speech today to the members of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association.

But it’s not easy to put on a happy face about taxes.

Coupal laid out a half-dozen challenges facing tax watchdogs in California in the battle to keep one step ahead of lawmakers the activist describes as addicted to spending public money.

He liken the Legislature to an adage of former President Ronald Reagan’s, which, paraphrased compared government to an infant: It has a healthy appetite on one end and no responsibility for what happens on the other end.

Coupal’s list of challenges included the education of the state’s young people about tax issues, many of whom are too young to remember Prop. 13, the state’s hallmark property rights measure. It severely limited property tax increases and mandated a two-thirds vote of the people for hikes beyond the caps.

Coupal also said citizens must continue to fight erosions of Prop. 13 such as lawmakers’ efforts to label taxes as fees. A fee is not subject to the two-thirds vote requirement.

Among his other points, he said the state continues to spend more than it takes in faces the repayment of $42 billion in bonds that voters approved last November for infrastructure.

“We appreciate the focus on infrastructure,” Coupal said, “but debt is a burden on future generations.”

Coupal warned against the strong influence of the state’s public employee unions on the costs of operating government services such as prisons and schools.

And he spoke unfavorably about the League of Cities, a coalition of local elected leaders, recent entry into the political arena with a heavily funded political action committee. The league spent money last November to help defeat Proposition 90, a property rights initiative that Coupal’s organization supported.

Coupal told the audience of largely conservative local leaders and elected officials that his organization submitted earlier this week a new property rights initiative that would strip government of its ability to use eminent domain for the purposes of taking private property and giving it to other private entities. (To read the submittal, click here for the California Secretary of State initiative web site. Coupal’s initiative is No. 07-0003.)

Finally, Coupal spoke of the urgent need to reform the way the state draws its political boundaries, a process called redistricting. Several options are under discussion, including an initiatives by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, that would turn over the map-making to the Little Hoover Commission.

Continuing to allow the Legislature to draw its own district lines is a “travesty of the Democratic process,” Coupal said. “We need to have an independent commission.”

Coupal spoke at the 70th annual meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association, held at Zio Fredos in Pleasant Hill.

In the audience were Contra Costa County supervisors Mary Piepho and Gayle Uilkema, chief administrator John Cullen, Assessor Gus Kramer, Treasurer Bill Pollacek and former Assemblyman and supervisor Joe Canciamilla.

Local elected city and town councilmembers on hand included Sue Rainey and Charlie Abrams of Walnut Creek, Helen Allen of Concord, Dave Hudson of San Ramon, Candace Andersen of Danville and Arne Simonsen of Antioch.

And not to miss a gathering of the county’s Republicans, four potential GOP primary candidates for Assembly District 15 worked the room, including Judy Biviano Lloyd, Robert Rao, San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson and Livermore Park and Recreation District Director Scott Kamena.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen