California voters could enshrine climate change in the state's Constitution - thanks to a phony ballot initiative being promoted by weak Republican Party leaders as a brake on cap-and-trade spending.
If you search the terms "carbon emissions," or "greenhouse gas," or "global warming" in the voluminous text of the California State Constitution, you will come up empty.
While the California Legislature has adopted a number of laws that refer to these phrases, never before have the voters of California voted to elevate them to our state's foundational document.
That may change next year, as a result of the 10-year extension of the draconian "cap-and-trade" program (AB 398), passed by the legislature with the votes of virtually every Democrat (of course) and the votes of eight ideologically challenged Republicans. The latter include Assembly Minority Leader Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley), as well as State Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Ceres), and Assemblymembers Catharine Baker (R-Walnut Creek), Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside), Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo), Heath Flora (R-Modesto), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), and Marc Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga).
Ironically the piece of the multi-billion dollar cap-and-trade deal that places a referendum before voters next June (ACA 1), ostensibly to impose fiscal discipline on the program, permanently enshrines references to cap-and-trade in the state constitution. And it was authored by Republican Mayes.
It is important to understand that the cap-and-trade program is, at its core, a massive multi-billion dollar tax on anyone (or any business) that produces more carbon emissions than allowed by state fiat. So far, the program has sucked over $4.5 billion out of the private sector in just four years, and has become a primary funding source for Gov. Jerry Brown's high-speed rail boondoggle.
The costs of these taxes are passed on to - you guessed it - the consumer, in the form of higher costs for a plethora of consumer goods, most notably the gas you put into your car.
The bipartisan cap-and-trade bill, according to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which opposed the bill as well as Mayes' constitutional amendment, combined with the new SB 2 gas tax hike, will mean that by 2030 California drivers are going to be hit with an additional 71 cents per gallon in gas taxes. That is over a $1,000 a year for the average family!
The sad reality is that the day this multi-billion tax was extended for a decade, there weren't even enough Democrats in the Capitol to have passed it without GOP votes. But Mayes didn't just put up enough GOP votes to pass it, he also led a bunch of his Assembly GOP colleagues to follow suit. The result (predictably) was that several Democrats in seats theoretically vulnerable to a Republican challenge were able to vote no, or not to vote.
Mayes spent weeks trying to make the case that this cap-and-trade deal would be better than what Democrats might enact if it didn't pass. Of course, you could use that argument to support literally any tax. "Vote for this tax, to avoid something worse."
Things become a little more clear when you see that while consumers are going to be hit with another decade of multi-billion dollar pass-through costs, a small fraction of that money in this Faustian deal will be "kicked back" to manufacturers in the form of a tax credit. There were also other tweaks to the bill to help out certain favored business interests, at the expense of the rest of us. That is a pattern we see often in the Capitol.
Which takes us back to the largely ineffectual Mayes constitutional amendment that voters will see on the ballot next year. While it purports to apply some fiscal control on the spending of some of the funds collected through the carbon tax, it actually doesn't do much of that at all. This measure, clearly, was a fig-leaf crafted by Governor Brown, Democrat legislative leaders, and Mayes, so that the latter would have some "cover" to cast votes for the program.
Specifically, this amendment, for just one of the ten years of the extended tax (which is estimated cumulatively to gouge the private sector for over $25 billion in that decade), will require a two-thirds rather than a majority vote of each legislative chamber to spend the funds raised. Besides the fact that this higher threshold would only apply to about 10% of the taxes hiked in the deal, there are two other big flaws. The first is that there is a presumption that Republicans will pick up some seats (right now Democrats can muster a 2/3 vote on their own), and it presumes one or two GOPers wouldn't sell out for some pork for their districts or a plum political appointment. The second assumption is that the measure suspends a tax credit for manufacturers until the vote takes place - so look for massive pressure from that interest group and their allies to vote quickly to spend the money.
This quote from the official analysis of ACA 1 prepared by the State Senate GOP Caucus sums it up best: "[T]his measure provides little overall control of how Cap and Tax revenues are really spent. If this measure is meant to entice Republicans to vote for AB 398, the negative elements of that bill far outweigh any positive of this ACA. This measure will do little if anything to reduce the increased tax burdens on low and middle income Californians that AB 398 will impose."
The worst part about the constitutional amendment is that it will totally mislead the average voter into thinking fiscal restraint has been put into place, when it is really nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors.
And of course, the main stream media will remind everyone, over and over, that it was all done in a "bipartisan fashion" with Democrats and Republicans coming together in a demonstration of unity. Who can taxpayers and consumers turn to now to protect them if these sorts of policies are coming out of the Capitol with significant support from the GOP?