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Commentary

California Governor Jerry Brown’s Born-Again Statism



June 6 marked 40 years since California voters passed the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, more commonly known as Proposition 13. It was the last anniversary for the measure while Jerry Brown is governor of California, so taxpayers might benefit from a look back across the decades.

The son of former Gov. “Pat” Brown, Jerry Brown won the 1974 governor’s race by only 2.9 percentage points. During his first term, California homeowners fared poorly.

Property taxes increased 120 percent between 1974 and 1978, and as the backers of Proposition 13 recall, “property taxes were out of control. People were losing their homes because they could not pay their property taxes, yet government did nothing to help them.”

Proposition 13 did not create any new state agencies, mandated no new state spending, and required no new hires in state government. Contrary to what some politicians believe, the measure did not cut taxes and only limited the way taxes could be raised.

Proposition 13 limited increases to no more than 2 percent per year if the property was not sold, and reassessed sold property at one percent of the sale price.

Jerry Brown called the measure a “fraud” and a “rip-off” and predicted a veritable Armageddon if the measure should pass. The people took a different view.

A full 65 percent of California voters approved the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation. By any definition, that is a landslide.

As Brown’s biographer Chuck McFadden recalled, “Instantly Jerry Brown performed one of the most dazzling flip-flops in the history of American politics” and proclaimed himself a “born-again tax cutter.”

Brown had not been a champion of tax limitation in 1976, when he first ran for president. Neither did he play a born-again tax cutter in 1980, when he again sought the nation’s highest office.

In his 1992 presidential run, Brown advanced a flat tax of 13 percent, with a similar value-added levy on business and deductions only for mortgage interest, rent and charitable contributions. The plan went nowhere and Brown struck out as a presidential candidate.

He mounted a comeback as mayor of Oakland and state attorney general. In 2010 he won the governor’s race against former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, and by that time Brown had become a born-again tax hiker.

Eight years later, embattled California taxpayers bear the nation’s highest income taxes, with a top rate of 13.3 percent, and the nation’s highest base sales-tax rate at 7.25 percent. On top of that, Brown has imposed a $5.2 billion gas tax, and the governor, a climate-change fundamentalist, describes those who complain as “freeloaders.”

The surging national economy has given the state a hefty budget surplus, but Brown won’t lower taxes or return money to the people in the manner of former Gov. George Deukmejian, who passed away in May.

Brown prefers to hand out fat pay raises to government employee unions.

On Brown’s second watch, unelected government bodies such as the California Coastal Commission have expanded their power to trample property rights. At the same time, Brown champions boondoggles such as the Delta tunnels ($17 billion for two, $10.7 billion for one) and the state’s vaunted “bullet train” at only $98.5 billion.

Hereditary, recurring Gov. Jerry Brown was never a born-again tax cutter. Forty years after Proposition 13, his legacy as a certified statist is virtually assured. California taxpayers have seen the future, and it irks.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent Briefing, Cross-Currents in California Water: A Case Study of Bureaucracy Versus Tradable, Private Water Rights.






  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org