Birth and Taxes: A Holiday Accounting


Posted on 28 December 2012

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By Rev. Jim Conn

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed."

Those are the opening lines from the Christmas story according to St. Luke, as written down by the team of scholars working under the direction of King James of England 500 years ago. Different translators have used different phrases over the centuries, but the frame for telling this story has always been taxes.

The Roman Empire wanted to make sure everyone paid their taxes, so Rome required its subjects to return to their towns of birth to sign into the national registry as part of a census, which allowed the keepers of the treasury to know who had paid and who had not. And that's how Jesus got to be born in Bethlehem.

In California, we face a different dilemma. For decades now, the Republicans in the Assembly and state Senate have refused to increase tax revenue. One governor or another, whether Democrat or Republican, has tried to figure out some trick to make the budget balance. Some borrowed. Some shifted budget items to bonds. Some papered over the gap between revenue and spending with fake savings or exaggerated income. They've all made cuts to schools, child care, children's health and expenditures on low-wage home-care workers. They've all postponed expensive issues that could wait - rebuilding levees, fixing roads, investing in rail.

Now the state has a super-majority of Democrats. No Republican minority can hold the state hostage to its anti-tax ideology of no new or increased taxes - at least for the next two years. Democrats actually have the opportunity to fix the situation for the long haul. Whether they do it will depend on people pushing them into it.

As might be expected, Democrats are already trying to avoid the issue. Some say that passing Proposition 30 - the governor's initiative on November's ballot - fixed it even though that law is short-term and includes a regressive sales tax increase that hurts the poor disproportionately. Democrats also worry they will be tarred with the dreaded "tax and spend" label - which can be devastating at the polls in marginal districts. Then too, the party leadership is terrified it will lose power. But sooner or later it will anyway, because super-majorities never last - so they might as well fix this mess now.

They should seize the opportunity to impose some new taxes that the Republicans wouldn't. An oil depletion tax should be first on the agenda, even though the oil companies will scream. Let them. California should not be the only state that produces oil without taxing its diminishing supply as a natural resource, and if companies can make money drilling marginal wells in other states that include the tax, why not here too?

Next on the list should be a use tax on yachts purchased out-of-state. Just like buying a car in a non-sales tax state (such as Nevada) requires a use tax to register it here, Californians who are rich enough to buy a yacht in Oregon or Mexico ought to pay a use tax for it. This notion actually passed legislative committees a while back, but was killed on the floor by Republicans.

Of course legislators should make some of Proposition 30's changes permanent, such as increased income taxes on the rich. They should also decrease the sales tax to make it fair for low-income people who unduly feel the burden of it. Legislators must also establish a new rate formula for the auto license tax. It should take into account both the cost of the vehicle and its size, because we know that SUVs and pickup trucks cause more road wear than smaller, light-weight vehicles, and they emit more pollutants and use more fuel. These revenue policies will require both more reflection and more courage because they are complicated and controversial.

But why not focus on taxes, especially if you can get a baby Jesus out of the mess, as happened in the Roman Empire? Of course, the followers of Jesus ultimately made the empire's rulers even more discomforted. On the other hand, the rise of a pan-empire religion also led to the flourishing of Western Civilization, which was not such a bad trade-off. California should do as well.


Rev. Jim Conn is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church and has served on the Santa Monica City Council and as that city's mayor. He is a proponent of community-based organizing, forging relationships between local stakeholders, non-profits, and religious organizations to resolve issues within the community. This article originally appeared at The Frying Pan.

California's problem is that taxes aren't high enough? Let me see, a marginal tax rate over 9% (unless you are successful, than it is higher), high sales taxes, high property taxes, high everything else taxes? And, you want more taxes?

Look at some of the things you argue for? More yacht taxes, oil depletion taxes, etc. First, these are actually quite small items. But, look at their history. When yacht taxes were raised, I remember when the Main senator (a liberal) said, "yikes, all of the yacht makers in our state are out of business!" As far as more oil taxes, fine, but all that will do is increase the price of gasoline. California already has the highest gas taxes in the country.

Look, the real problem is that costs are out of control. Start lowering costs. Right now, the successful and middle class are leaving. That is the real problem.

CALIFORNIA private businesses; honest corporation; responsible citizenry, accounting professionals; actuaries; academics and scholars still begs the question from our political leaders: What happened to the nearly six decades of TAXES collected? Can anyone in our government explain the reasons WHY and HOW California was able to operate in a "DEFICIT" BUDGET?

WE the people KNOW that INCOME and WAGES was "FLATLINED" for the middle and working classes ever since the Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown Administration FIRST came to power (as President and Governor) AND that TAXES and government fees has INCREASED (not decreased)---What happened to all those TAXES? Can Jerry Brown explain and itemize or perhaps do a line item explanation where our money went to?

When income has flatlined and taxes has increased and exceeded THAT of what Citizens were expecting to cover the cost of governing; cost for public works and safety net programs, ONE would logically think our government would have a "SURPLUS". Apparently "DEFICIT" budget is what our government claim to be operating in. HOW COULD THAT BE? It does NOT ADD UP.

Californian are finding out more and more through delayed AUDITS that UNKNOWN fund accounts (not reflected in the states' financial report)are surfacing for which were never accounted for in previous financial reports. For example $54 million dollars found in an account made by Department of Parks and Recreations. Another example $10 million dollars found in Santa Clara County redevelopment Agency; Billions of dollars paid to Superior Court Judges over several decades by State County and Supervisors in LA County; and only GOD knows how much more that our government has kept SECRET from the Citizens looted out of our Treasury by no-bid contracts and from WASTE; FRAUD; and MISMANAGEMENT.

WHY are the INSURANCE INDUSTRY; BANKERS; and LAWYER inbedded with our three BRANCHES of GOVERNMENT? Our Government is suppose to regulate them and make sure they act within the rule of LAW and NOT make laws that virtually immunize them from any prosecution for breaking the law. There is a CONFLICT of interest when Lawyers, bankers, and insurance industries are designing the laws that they should be following. ARE WE CALIFORNIANS THAT STUPID to see what is going on in our STATE and for that matter going on all around our Country?

"Any" responsible rating Agency should post the right question and demand an answer before granting any future credit. Someone has to be accountable to the TAXPAYERS. Californians ARE NOT IDIOTS and will not be suckered into giving more taxes to support an ineffective, inefficient, and waste, fraud, mismanagement ridden government without being accountable.

Our people have been reduces as a number; a file; a commodity to be traded at the disposal of those we put in power. They see us as a thing and not a living human being but some sort of thing like "peasants".