And with added graphics!
Michael Stewart Foley has just been appointed Professor of American Studies at the University of Groningen. An American-born scholar with a doictorate from the University of New Hampshire, he previously taught American history at England’s University of Sheffield. He’s a founding editor of The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics, and Culture, and has written several books. He also served as an advisor to that iconic and much-honored television series Mad Men.
Today’s QOTD comes from a Salon excerpt from his Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s [publication date Tuesday] which looks at “a wide range of grass roots campaigns in that period, all of which were connected by a similar impulse to mobilize based on personal experience.”
Salon’s excerpt focuses on the critical importance of the campaign run by Howard Jarvis to sell California voters on a measure designed to destroy the very supportive [for Anglos] state-supported commons, one that included superb modern roads and streets, solid community services, a generally excellent public education system, and the country’s finest public university system.
But Howard Jarvis hated government, period.
And he created a timebomb, a piece of legislation to cap property taxes to an artificially low level be capping all property values at levels before the real estate bubble sparked by sparing inflation in the latter half of the 1970s, then capping annual increases at a maximum of two percent.
Jarvis was a master rabble-rouser, cynically and masterfully playing to crowd.
What he created was Proposition 13, slayer of government funding.
We met him during the campaign before its passage, and described the encounter in a piece we wrote while on staff at the Berkeley Daily Planet:
Following a 1977 speech to the Malibu Rotary Club, an inebriated Howard Jarvis—the 74-year-old co-author and prime mover of Proposition 13—told this writer that he had created the landmark California initiative “to demolish local government and eliminate all the bureaucracy.”
Soaring real estate prices matched by rapidly escalating taxes spurred California voters to pass Prop. 13 the following year. As a direct result of the initiative’s mandates, property tax bills fell by an average of 57 percent in the next year.
A one-time Utah newspaper publisher, Jarvis made no secret of his anti-statist beliefs, which he passed on to numerous recruits. One of his earliest and most passionate converts was a libertarian and major Santa Monica property owner named Arnold Schwarzenegger.
During his run for the governorship almost three decades later, Schwarzenegger rebuked his own campaign economic adviser, billionaire investor Warren Buffet, after Buffett called for reforms to the Prop. 13 provisions in order to provide an increase in California property taxes. “Mr. Buffett doesn’t speak for Mr. Schwarzenegger,” declared campaign spokesperson Rob Stutzman, who then told the press that Schwarzenegger admired Jarvis “and has referred to him as the original terminator.”
Jarvis as Godfather of the Tea Party
All of which brings us to our Quote of the day, that excerpt from Salon, published under the headline, “The Tea Party’s inspiration: A tax revolt that destroyed California; An anti-tax referendum in California started the ‘mad as hell’ brigade — and led to the current faux-populists.”
So here it is:
The allure of Proposition 13 lay in its simplicity. As written by Jarvis, Proposition 13 would roll back property assessments and freeze them at 1975 levels; the values could then be raised by only 2 percent a year (to account for inflation), and properties could be reassessed only at the time of sale or transfer. All property would then be taxed at a flat 1 percent of its new value, whether based on the annual 2 percent increase or on its recent sale price. Maybe most important (and perhaps most overlooked), Proposition 13 would prohibit any government body—local or state—from raising any new taxes without a two-thirds vote of the governing body. In effect, this new system would mean that an average Los Angeles homeowner paying $2,200 on a $70,000 home in 1977 would see his taxes rolled back to $700 a year, only to rise thereafter at 2 percent per year. That kind of math appealed to a lot of anxious California homeowners.
By brushing off criticism, Jarvis largely succeeded in obscuring the fundamental unfairness of the initiative. He slapped away charges that Prop 13’s biggest beneficiaries would be landlords and business property owners who anticipated a savings windfall of $3.5 billion out of a total loss of local tax revenue of $5.5 billion. That is, homeowners, on whose behalf the initiative had allegedly been written, stood to save only $2 billion of the total $5.5 billion in savings. Moreover, since residential properties change hands more frequently than business properties, reassessments at market value were much more likely to happen on homes than on commercial property. Such revaluations of homes, critics pointed out, would also lead to blatantly inconsistent taxation of homeowners living in the same neighborhood where one house might be taxed on its 1975 value, but the house next door, recently sold to a new neighbor, would be taxed on its new market value. Finally, few Californians seemed to grasp that with less property tax to deduct on their federal income tax returns, a significant chunk of their property tax savings would be flipped to Uncle Sam in the form of higher income taxes. Jarvis dismissed any such critique as a “crock of manure” and called his opponents “liars,” “dummies, goons, cannibals or big mouths.”
Catch that last bit, the bullying bombast. He’d fit right in on Fox News today, the medium that gave coherence to the Tea Party, then covered it, as my Kansas farm-town father would’ve put it, “like flies on shit.”
Note the Tea Party link to Jarvis’s “smash government” agenda captured in this Los Angeles Times cartoon by David Horsey, accompanying an essay headlined:
Tea party Sen. Ted Cruz is eager to force a government shutdown
The Koch Brothers are Jarvis writ large, deploying precisely the same cynical strategems in the interests of institutionalized and unencumbered rapacity.
Jarvis, the old atheist vodka-drinking corporate libertarian from Utah, would be very pleased to see the outcome of the strategies he pioneered. He was, after all, a very patient man, the very character he portrayed opened and closed and ended a very famous comedy, 1980’s Airplane!
To quote from an earlier post,
He opens and closes the film, a taxi driver who catches a cab driven by the protagonist, who simply starts the meter and leaves Jarvis to rush into the airport, hope a flight, save a doomed airliner, reconcile with his true love, then fly back to Los Angeles, where Jarvis is still waiting patiently in the curbside cab as the meter keeps running. And now the Prop 13 meter is doing just what Jarvis intended.
And Roll em!
Sponsor of Prop 13 Howard Jarvis at the airport