Nearly two years after the passage of Proposition 13, the Howard Jarvis-led tax revolt here is floundering, its once-large core of supporters deeply divided and its voter appeal waning in the face of rising public fears of recession and cutbacks in social services.
After the 2-to-1 triumph of Proposition 13 two years ago and the even more overwhelming passage of the "Spirit of 13" spending limitation last year, Jarvis and most observers believed his current ballot measure, a plan to cut state income taxes in half, would have easy sailing in June 3 voting.
But the campaign for Proposition 9, the state income tax initiative, has in recent weeks faced mounting opposition throughout the state, including some former key backers of Proposition 13. California's Field Poll, which showed Prop. 9 leading by 20 points in February, now show it losing by five points.
"I supported Proposition 13 because the property tax it relieved was totally unfair," said Roland Vincent, co-chairman of the Anti-Proposition 9 Citizens for California and former top aide to Howard Jarvis. "This Proposition 9 is a total ripoff. "It's a cruel hoax on the middleclass."
Vincent and other former Proposition 13 supporters, including Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi and City Controller Ira Reiner, insist they still favor strong tax relief. But they say the ax should not fall on the income tax which hits affluent Californians most heavily.
Opponents also claim that Proposition 9, which would take an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion from state revenues in the first year, could undermine essential public services already strapped by the revenue-cutting provisions of Proposition 13 and last year's Proposition 4.
Proposition 13, which cut state property taxes 57 percent, has reduced state revenue by an estimated $7 billion annually. Its passage resulted in the elimination of over 100,000 local and state public service jobs, according to a study made by the Institute for Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
Proposition 4 mandated that state government expenditures cannot increase faster than the rate of inflation. It also stipulated that any state surplus tax funds be returned to taxpayers.
In a state that has already seen staff cutbacks in half of all local school districts, the reduction of hours at many libraries and the reduction in highway maintenance, there are widespread concerns that Proposition 9 could force local and state government into extreme cost-cutting measures.
Among the actions now being discussed are the imposition of tuition of our $1,000 a year at state colleges and universities, the paroling of some youthful offenders and the elimination of kindergarten and the senior year of high school in some public schools.
Fears of an upcoming recession have heightened concern over the ability of state government to absorb the impact of Proposition 9. Nearly 70 percent of those opposing the initiative, according to a recent Field California poll, said possible cutbacks in services and the solvency of state government were the prime reasons they oppose the Jarvis measure.
Jarvis has countered the arguments against Proposition 9, in part, by attacking Vincent, Reiner and other opponents of his proposition. He claimed, for instance, that Reiner opposed 9 as part of a political deal which saw Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr., a leading opponent of 9, appoint Reiner's wife to a vacancy on the state Superior Court.
Reiner has denied the charges, as has Brown. Gary Davis, Brown's chief of staff, called Jarvis' accusation "slanderous and sexist."
"I think Howard Jarvis is unraveling as a politican," said Mickey Kantor, cochairman of the Anti-Nine Citizens for California. "He thought this issue would never even be joined. He doesn't know what to do when he's losing but make these kinds of personal attacks. He's losing credibility."
Despite the fire directed at him, the 76-year-old Jarvis has continued his acerbic attacks on his opposition.
"The tax revolt is stronger than ever and I'm more popular than ever," Jarvis said. "The polls say they still like me. Maybe the public likes a creep."
Both sides generally agree that the proposition would lead to an expenditure cut in California state government of between 5 percent and 10 percent annually. Jarvis believes the state, which has an estimated $2.5 billion surplus this year, could easily absorb the reduction by cutting "fat" in the budget.
Taking his cue from economist Arthur Laffer, Jarvis believes Prop 9 could help "insulate" California from the expected recession by stimulating the economy. California's economy has repeatedly outperformed the nation's since the passage of Prop 13, Jarvis and other Prop 9 supporters point out.
But some economist such as University of California at Los Angeles economics professor Larry Kimbell, insist the state's strong economic position predated the passage of 13 and is due mostly to California's diversified economic base. Opposition forces say that Prop 9 won't help the state economy and that in fact, fear of another spending initiative recently led Moody's Investment Service to lower California's state bond rating.
But perhaps the most controversial aspect of Prop 9 revolves around the question of who benefits most from its passage. Supporters claim the proposition would benefit the lower end of the economic spectrum by cutting state taxes by as much as 70 percent for a family making under $15,000 a year. The reductions called for by Prop 9 are frozen at a maximum just under 50 percent for taxpayers making over $50,000 a year.
Opponents of the measure charge that while the higher percentage cut would aid the lower income taxpayers, the largest dollar savings would accrue to the wealthiest citizens. Prop 9 opponents claim that half the total dollar savings from the measure would go to the less than 4 percent of taxpayers earning over $40,000 a year.
This is a result of the highly progressive nature of the state income tax structure. While a family of four with an income of $17,500 pays only about $181 a year in state income taxes, a similar family with an income of $75,000 pays over $6,900.
The dispartiy in the dollar amounts to be saved by cutting state income taxes is being used by Prop. 9 opponents to blunt Jarvis' attempts to recapture the popular spirit that swept Proposition 13 to is overwhelming victory. Reiner, for instance, has called Prop. 9 "the worst way" to cut taxes and has urged that cuts be made instead in such regressive taxes as the sales tax.
Jarvis' supporters bitterly contest the claims by Prop 9's opponents that the tax cut is unfair to the lower income citizens. Pointing to the greater percentage cuts in income taxes provided by 9 for the lower end of the income spectrum, state Sen. Bill Campbell, a leading Jarvis ally, claimed the initiative would help make the state income tax "even more progressive than it is today."
"They are trying to wage a class warfare effort," Campbell said. "It's unfair. There's probably wild charges on both sides and this is their wildest."
Prop. 9 foe Reiner says the public is still in its anti-tax mood but maintains that the public realizes cutting state income taxes now is probably not the best way.
"Nine will tell us whether this tax revolt is so intense that it does not discriminate," Reiner said. "If it passes, well, I guess it will be like the French Revolution -- that people want to get at the government even if they have to shoot themselves in the foot."