Sound and Fury over Taxes

Howard Jarvis and the voters send a message: "We're mad as hell!"

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That sound roaring out of the West —what was it? A California earthquake? A Pacific tidal wave threatening to sweep across the country? Literally, it was neither; figuratively, it was both. That angry noise was the sound of a middle class tax revolt erupting, and its tremors are shaking public officials from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. Suddenly all kinds of candidates in election year 1978 are joining the chorus of seductive antitax sentiment, assailing high taxes, inflation and government spending.

The full significance of the revolt—and it is nothing less than that—was made plain by the magnitude of the victory won by proponents of California's now famous, or infamous, Proposition 13: 4.2 million voters supported the measure, overwhelming by nearly 2 to 1 the 2.3 million who refused to go along. It was as though millions of the state's taxpayers had thrown open their windows like the fed-up characters in the movie Network and shouted in thunderous unison: "I'm mad as hell—and I'm not going to take it any more!"

What the nation's most populous state last week refused to accept was the soaring, inflation-fueled rise in its property taxes. In the most radical slash in property taxes since Depression days, Californians voted themselves a 57% cut—more than $7 billion—in the levy that hurts them most, the tax on the rising value of their homes. Ignoring warnings that schools may not be able to educate, libraries may close and crime rates may climb, the voters further decreed that any local tax hereafter may increase no more than 2% a year—substantially less than the anticipated hikes in the cost of living. California was the epicenter of the tax-quake, but there were Richter Scale readings nearly everywhere. On the same Tuesday that Proposition 13 swept to victory, taxpayers in Ohio turned down 86 of 139 school tax levies, including emergency outlays designed to save public schools in Cleveland and Columbus from bankruptcy. Conservative candidates for the U.S. Senate won victories in Iowa and New Jersey by campaigning hard for tax cuts. Twenty-three state legislatures have called for an unprecedented constitutional convention to weigh an amendment requiring the Federal Government to operate on a balanced budget. Limits on state and local spending have been enacted in three states (Colorado, New Jersey and Tennessee), and efforts to clamp on similar lids are under way in 19 others. And Howard Jarvis, the crusty curmudgeon who spearheaded the California tax revolt, has already been asked to carry his crusade to 40 states.

He will get a warm welcome. Tax foes elsewhere are smoldering in anger and frustration—not only at the ever bigger bites being taken out of their pocketbooks but also at what they see as more waste and fewer services from government.

"The people are up in arms," said Illinois Republican State Representative Don Totten. "They're telling government to stop and get out of our lives." Said Democratic Congressman Jim Jones of Oklahoma, who is trying to shepherd a $15 billion tax-cut program through the House: "Those middle-income folks at $10,000 to $30,000 are on the verge of revolt. They want tax relief—and they want it now. They've

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