On Saturday Joe Mathews (who runs the excellent Blockbuster Democracy blog) had a very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on Democratic and progressive reactions to the Parsky Commission proposals that, except for the Fred Keeley/Chris Edley progressive proposals would embrace an overtly regressive tax structure. Mathews included this quote from yours truly:
Robert Cruickshank, a contributing editor at the progressive blog Calitics, says of the commission’s expected recommendations: “Most progressives are not going to support these kind of regressive solutions. You would see a fight if the Democratic legislature made a move to do this.”
Mathews also quoted Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign (who is my boss; I’m also the Public Policy Director at the Courage Campaign):
But supporters of the commission’s proposals are likely to get a fair hearing. Frustration with the California status quo crosses all ideological lines. Even those who disagree with the commission’s thrust are glad to have something new to discuss. “I’m really glad they’re trying something,” said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, a progressive Internet network with more than 700,000 members. He argues that the existing state tax system is too regressive. “It’s important to push the discussion out.”
I want to go into more depth on both of these points. As with any article, one tells the reporter much more than shows up in print. First, on my quote. I said that to Mathews before word of the Keeley/Edley effort to propose progressive solutions became known, but their efforts merely confirm the broader point, which is that progressives will never embrace regressive taxation as a “solution” to California’s budget mess.
California’s tax system is already regressive as the lowest 20% pay a much higher portion of their income in taxes than the wealthy. That has been a deliberate policy choice, going back to Prop 13. But it has never been discussed openly. (And I do wish it had been mentioned in the WSJ article.)
Which is why the Parsky Commission, in its own way, is doing California a service. Instead of back-room deals that regressivize the tax structure without any public input, the commission has undertaken a very open process and is embracing the goals of letting the rich evade their responsibilities.
In the end most Democrats and virtually all progressives will oppose any regressive tax proposals. It’s time we fixed the state’s tax structure, yes, but volatility isn’t actually a problem – the regressive and too-low nature of taxation in CA is, and if the Parsky Commission leads to a discussion and proposals to progressivize the system, then it will have been a useful exercise indeed.