Howard Jarvis's tax-mashing steamroller finally may have run out of steam. With a week to go before the California primary election (June 3), indications are that voters probably will reject the bluff taxcutter's latest effort to curb government. It would be the third attack on public spending by California's electorate in as many years, and most voters apparently are wary of the cumulative results.
Proposition 9, the new initiative on the upcoming state ballot, would cut state income-tax rates in half. It follows Propositon 13 of 1978 (which cut property taxes by some 57 percent) and a 1979 ballot measure that holds increases in state and local spending to changes in population or the consumer price index. Both of the earlier intiatives were overwhelmingly approved by voters.
But recent polls show that as Californians learn more about the new Jarvis measure, they are deciding to vote "no."
Proposition 9 would lop as much as $5 billion off annual state income (about 25 percent of California's general fund). This is about the same amount that so far has been used to "bail out" local communities whose budgets have been stretched thin by Proposition 13. Mr. Jarvis insists that the state surplus will continue to be large, but other budget analysts are not so sure.
Since about 85 percent of state spending goes for education, health, welfare, and property tax relief, it is pointed out, the effects of this new measure are sure to be felt at the local level. Many services already have been cut back because of Proposition 13.
One of the principal arguments against Proposition 9 is that most of its benefits go to the wealthy. Less than one-fifth of California's taxpayers would receive more than 60 percent of the tax cut.
It also is pointed out that Californians would have to pay more than $1 billion in additional federal income taxes because of reduced tax deductions. Twelve California congressmen recently warned that the state could also lose several billion dollars in federal funds, including revenue sharing and other grants that require state matching funds, if Proposition 9 passes.
California's bond rating has slipped a notch because of the 1978-79 measures, and the impact on the state's economy remains cloudy. Mr. Jarvis and his supporters argue that cutting government spending results in a healthier economy.
Conservative economist Milton Friedman, who backed Proposition 13, opposes the latest Jarvis measure. Proposition 9, he says, would "have the effect of making California less attractive for business enterprise."
Howard Jarvis had become a folk hero of sorts in recent years, but his gruff manner recently has begun to offend some Californians. "People who decide elections don't read," he grumbled to one interviewer. When Mr. Jarvis insulted some county officials, state assembly Republican leader Carol Hallet (who supports Proposition 9) demanded that he apologize. He refused to back down.
The Los Angeles Times, in a recent editorial, described Mr. Jarvis as "the loose cannon on the deck of California politics . . . smashing a path through civil dialogue and reasoned debate."
In any case, most Californians seem to agree with Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. who says, "There is a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Proposition 9."
Three months ago, pollster Mervin Field reported that Californians favored Proposition 9 by 54-34 percent. Significantly, however, 60 percent of those questioned in February knew little or nothing about what its impact might be.
Last Week, Mr. Field again surveyed voters and found them opposing the Jarvis measure by 57-31 percent.