Grover Norquist. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)
A recent lawsuit mounted by former UCLA chancellor Charles Young and former Ninth Circuit Appellate Justice William A. Norris brings renewed attention to California’s 30-year-old Proposition 13.
The Norris/Young suit claims that Proposition 13, requiring a two-thirds vote of both houses of the California Legislature to increase taxes, is unconstitutional. The suit argues that Proposition 13 was a revision of the California Constitution, not a mere amendment.
Revisions are changes that fundamentally alter the structure of government, whereas amendments are just additions. Proposition 13 altered the government’s constitutional authority to raise public funds. To be a valid revision, Proposition 13 would have had to pass with a supermajority in both houses of the California Legislature, and with a majority vote of the people. Because Proposition 13 received only a majority vote of the people, it must be stricken.
The Norris/Young lawsuit, along with a November 2011 statement by Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) that Grover Norquist, as the “thirteenth member” of the bipartisan supercommittee on fiscal reform, was responsible for its failure, raise two questions: Have Norquist pledge signers violated federal and state criminal laws? and, What is the connection between Proposition 13 and Norquist pledge signers in the California Legislature?
In the 112th Congress of the United States, 235 members of the House of Representatives and 41 members of the Senate have signed the pledge created by Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform. The pledge states :
I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
Norquist and his organization give political support to candidates who make the pledge and work to defeat candidates who do not. To assume office and be paid a salary, members of Congress must take an oath:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.
The Constitution of the United States, to which signers swear their true faith and allegiance, provides, in Article I, Section 8:
The Congress shall have the Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and General Welfare of the United States …
The Sixteenth Amendment says:
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes from whatever source derived …
The preemptive and unconditional pledge to Norquist by each signer is a knowing and willful repudiation of Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution and the Sixteenth Amendment. The pledge to Norquist makes signers’ oath of office to uphold the Constitution a fraud on the Congress and the American people. It is also a probable violation of federal criminal law.
Title 18, Section 1001, of the United States Code says that whoever willfully makes any false statement or representation in any matter coming within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch of the government of the United States shall be fined or imprisoned for not more than five years. Section 1001 specifically applies to claims for payment of money submitted to Congress. Accordingly, by fraudulent oath of office, Norquist signers claim Congressional salaries in violation of Section 1001.
Norquist signers in the California Legislature pledge that they will “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.” To assume office and be paid a salary, they must swear an oath to uphold both the federal and state constitutions. But the California Constitution says, in Article 13, Section 31:
The power to tax may not be surrendered or suspended by grant or contract.
In view of their pledge to Americans for Tax Reform, signers make a false oath of office, because they have surrendered their power to tax to Norquist, in violation of Section 31. The California Government Code makes each Norquist signer’s false oath of office an act of perjury, punishable by imprisonment for two, three, or five years.
Considering the party composition of the California Legislature, the close connection between the Norquist pledge signers and Proposition 13’s requirement of a two-thirds majority in both houses to increase taxes becomes clear. The California Senate is composed of 40 members, 15 of whom are Republicans and signers of the Norquist pledge. The California Assembly has 80 members, 28 of whom are Republicans, 25 of whom have signed the pledge. Norquist controls 37 percent of the Senate and 31 percent of the Assembly.
With Norquist pledge signers in place, the two-thirds supermajority required to raise taxes can never be achieved. Under the requirements of Proposition 13, Norquist controls the revenue lifeblood of the California republic. He is the unelected, dictatorial member of the California Legislature. He is the reason there are annual budget crises in Sacramento. He is the cause of the crumbling infrastructure of California. He and his signers have starved public safety services and educational opportunities for Californians.
If the Norris/Young lawsuit succeeds in removing the Proposition 13 supermajority rule, the State of California can once again exercise its constitutional authority to raise revenues for the public good, to restore infrastructure, public safety services and educational opportunities for Californians. In the meantime, the voters should remove the Norquist signers from office, because they are the enemies of constitutions and the people.