Passing the tax buck

Guess what. Taxes are going up in California, despite what Gov. Schwarzenegger and Republican legislators say.

The reason? Because the state is in a financial fix, and somebody’s got to pay the bills.

As usual, local governments are left holding the bag.

Reality is now setting in. First the new governor inherits a massive budget deficit. Then he makes it worse by rolling back vehicle license fees, costing the state another $4.2 billion annually in lost revenue. And how does he make up this lost money? By raiding local-government coffers.

Over the next few years local jurisdictions, which have seen their budgets plundered by the state at an increasing rate, will have to do the unpleasant work of raising taxes and selling bonds just to make up for lost revenue necessary to maintain barebones public services.

Hey, why should state legislators make those politically unpopular decisions and risk their careers, when all they have to do is dip into local treasuries and then let supervisors and city councilmembers figure out how to come up with the bucks?

This week the Chico City Council, sensing a grim financial future lurking right around the corner, began talking about increasing the local sales tax as well as exploring other, less regressive sources of revenue to keep the city solvent.

At the same time, the Department of Motor Vehicles boasted that its direction from the governor to rebate “overpayment” in vehicle license fees was unfolding right on schedule and putting an average of $135 back into the pocket of each car owner who was “overcharged.”

How many of those folks would be willing to pay a little more than $10 per month for adequate fire and police protection once threatened with its absence? Most of them, we suspect. Too bad our state politicians don’t have the courage to explain these things in the first place. Now local-government officials are forced to clean up their mess and make the unpleasant but necessary tough decisions.