Special Tax Sessions Announced by Gov. Brown

taxesIn announcing the budget deal with the Legislature, Governor Jerry Brown announced two special sessions to deal with transportation and Medi-Cal funding. Call them the Special Tax Sessions.

In the press release announcing the sessions, the governor stated that the sessions were to “find more adequate funding for our roads and health care programs.”

The governor asked for “permanent and sustainable funding to maintain and repair the state’s transportation and critical infrastructure.” He also wants “permanent and sustainable funding to provide at least $1.1 billion annually to stabilize the state’s General Fund costs for Medi-Cal,” some of which would be used to meet the demands of programs Democratic legislators sought funds for in the current budget such as In-Home Supportive Services.

At the governor’s press conference announcing the budget deal, reporters asked Brown about his first term (third term?) campaign pledge to only seek tax increases with approval of voters. Brown brushed aside the old pledge indicating the pledge only applied to his first term.

Add it all up and there will be a push for tax or fee increases to support the governor’s call for “permanent and sustainable funding.” Discussions will revolve around gas taxes and a higher car tax or maybe a mileage fee for transportation; perhaps an increased cigarette tax and other healthcare taxes for Medi-Cal.

Brown might hope for support from the business community for the transportation and infrastructure fix. Those issues have been of on-going concern to business.

Still, the large influx of dollars in the current budget and the talk of tax proposals that may end up on next year’s ballot will only increase the anxiety of businesses and taxpayers alike and could result in stalemated special sessions.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

CA Tax & Spend Issues Reflect National Debate

Yesterday, two articles appeared that took note of circumstances surrounding California’s taxing and spending. As the most populated state in the union that is not too surprising. However, is the national attention a reflection of how the press sees some of the coming debates in next year’s presidential contest?

On the surface, the news report in the Washington Times and the editorial in the Wall Street Journal seem centered on local California matters. But each has strains that echo in the national debate.

The Washington Times focused on the effort to change Proposition 13 by creating a “split roll” to tax business property differently than residential property. The article talked about the difficulty in amending Prop 13 in the past but suggested a change in Californians’ voting habits might make the property tax reform more vulnerable.

Others don’t see it that way. Claremont McKenna College professor John Pitney was quoted in the article. “A lot of Democrats would like to see it pass, but their messaging tends to work against it. Gov. Brown and other top Democrats have been touting robust revenues in recent months. But if government coffers are so flush, why raise taxes?”

The issue of those robust revenues was the subject of the Wall Street Journal editorial. The message from the Journal editors was to remember when past California legislatures splurged with surplus dollars only to face a day of reckoning when the economy hit a downturn.

The Journal complained that while much of the new spending is aimed at the poor, the spending programs instituted for the poor seemed to do little to relieve the problem of poverty with California maintaining the nation’s highest poverty rate. The Journal suggested the tax system was to blame for chasing middle class manufacturing jobs away.

The financial equality issue will certainly be a focus of the presidential debates. California’s experiments in searching for a solution to aid the poor through expanded spending programs will be fodder for that debate.

Meanwhile, the campaign to undo a portion of Proposition 13 is another “tax-the-rich” effort. The Washington Times observed the campaign to change the measure is focused on “giant corporations” and “America’s wealthiest commercial property owners.” This approach falls neatly into the anti-Wall Street rhetoric on the national level.

Of course, the split roll is not the same thing as attacking Wall Street. A split roll would affect all of California businesses.

The national media is interested in the themes presented by the California taxing and spending discussion. Will they sway potential voters? After all, Proposition 13 itself was the catalyst for changing the conversation about taxes in the 1980s. Those who desire to change that conversation would start with changing Prop 13.

California has often been called the bellwether for what will happen next in American political circles. How the California campaigns on taxes and spending progress (or do not progress) may once again serve that bellwether role.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

New Bill Would Allow Cities to Ratchet Up Sales Taxes Even Higher

LAO Sales Tax State Comparison ChartAlthough Californians already pay some of the highest sales taxes in the nation, a bill that recently passed the Assembly paves the way for the sales tax to go even higher. Assembly Bill 464 increases to 3 percent (from the current 2 percent cap) the maximum sales tax rate that can be levied by local governments.

That potential 3 percent sales tax levied by cities and counties is in addition to the statewide 7.5 percent sales tax, which could result in a combined 10.5 percent tax in some areas of the state. Tax hikes require majority voter approval for general purpose levies and two-thirds approval for special purposes.

The average state and local combined sales tax in California is 8.5 percent, according to a recent report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The lowest rate of 7.5 percent predominates in rural counties, while the highest rates are in urban areas. Residents in eight cities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County are currently paying a 10 percent sales tax because their counties have received exemptions from the 2 percent cap.

“AB464 is about local control and flexibility,” said the bill’s author Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-San Mateo, on the Assembly floor May 14. “It gives local voters the ability to raise revenue to fund important public services, including transportation, public safety and libraries. This bill is crucial, because if just one city in a county reaches the [2 percent] cap, then the entire county is precluded from having voters raise any additional taxes, hindering key transportation projects or attempts to enhance public safety.

LAO Sales Tax Chart“As a result, a flurry of legislation has been signed into law creating individual cap exceptions across the state. AB464 reduces the need for this one-off legislation by lifting the cap statewide. Please join me in granting voters the ability to raise sufficient revenue to fund public services locally in California.”

There was no debate on the bill, which passed along party lines 45-31. It’s supported by California’s counties and their transportation commissions along with government employee unions.

The California Taxpayers Association issued an opposition “floor alert” on the bill that was signed by numerous business and local taxpayer organizations. It states that “California already has the highest sales and use tax rate in the country,” and provides three arguments against raising the cap:

  • Increases the cost of doing business. Businesses face a significant sales and use tax burden in California, and business purchases account for roughly 40 percent of all sales and use tax collected by state and local governments. California is one of the few states that requires businesses to pay sales and use tax on manufacturing and R&D equipment bought and used in the state, making California a very expensive state to operate in, particularly when the sales tax rate is 10 percent in some California cities.
  • The sales and use tax is a regressive tax that impacts California’s most vulnerable residents, making it more difficult for them to budget and purchase everyday necessities. California’s economy is improving, resulting in improved revenue collections this year. Now is the wrong time to ask taxpayers, especially those that can least afford it, to spend more of their income to pay taxes.
  • Raises the sales tax rate to 11 percent in some areas. [T]he Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority imposes a 0.5 percent tax in excess of current limitations for all of Los Angeles County. This bill would authorize this district to increase its rate to 11 percent. This level of taxation is excessive, and exacerbates the problems described above.

That last argument may be in error. The bill caps the city/county-levied sales tax to 3 percent above the statewide rate, which would equal a maximum of 10.5 percent even for districts with current 0.5 percent cap exceptions.

The immediate beneficiaries of AB464 are Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles and San Mateo counties, which have all reached the 2 percent limit, as well as Marin, San Diego and Sonoma counties, which are near the 2 percent limit, according to the Assembly’s legislative analysis.

California’s sales tax brought in $48 billion in 2013–14. About half of it goes to the state government’s general fund, making it the second largest general fund source after the income tax, which accounts for two-thirds. One percent of the sales tax goes to cities’ and counties’ general funds; the rest is aimed at specific programs such as public safety and transportation.

LAO Sales Tax Increase Chart

The statewide sales tax rate began at 2.5 percent in 1933. Although the tax rate has tripled since then and its revenue has increased at a 7.3 percent annual rate, the sales tax has actually decreased as a share of total state revenue. “In the 1950s, the sales tax accounted for the majority of General Fund revenue, while the personal income tax contributed less than one-fifth,” the LAO report said. “Since then, personal income tax revenue has grown rapidly due to growth in real incomes, the state’s progressive rate structure and increased capital gains.”

In 1969, cities and counties were granted the authorization to pass their own sales tax increases, mostly benefiting transportation improvements.

Although not nearly as volatile a revenue source as the income tax, revenue from the sales tax can vary significantly depending on the state of the economy. In 1974-75 sales tax revenue increased 22 percent, but in 2008-09 it declined 10 percent. Overall, however, adjusting for increased rate changes, inflation and population, sales tax revenue has remained roughly constant per capita since 1970–71, according to the LAO.

AB464 will next be considered by the Senate Rules Committee.

Small Measures Can Provide Large Benefits to Taxpayers

TaxesThose who follow the political machinations in Sacramento might well conclude that not much good emerges from the California Legislature. Gas taxes, attacks on home ownership, a tax increase on commercial property, ever-expanding pension deficits, high speed rail, there seems an endless list of proposals for which the average taxpayer is supposed to foot the bill, while others receive the benefit.

With all this bad news, it is easy to overlook some relatively obscure bills that could have an oversized beneficial impact on taxpayers.
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Assembly Bill 809 by Assembly Member Jay Obernolte (Hesperia) is a proposal that will aid local voters deciding on tax measures by providing some much needed transparency. Under current law, there is no word limit requirement on the ballot label – the descriptive information that appears on the ballot — for local tax measures. The ballot label is the last thing most citizens see before casting their vote. The label is often filled with whole paragraphs explaining how the funds will be spent, but little or no information that helps voters determine what it will cost them.

AB809 states that the ballot label will include the tax rate increase, its duration, and a revenue estimate of what it will generate annually. If voters approve a county-wide sales tax increase for 30-40 years, they should at least be fully aware of the cost in the years to come. By placing this information in the ballot label, voters can make informed decisions that will best benefit their communities.

Assembly Bill 1378 by Assembly Member Chris Holden (Pasadena) expands the provisions of Proposition 60, which was based on an idea by Howard Jarvis and approved by voters in 1986, that provides property tax relief for seniors. Proposition 60 allows for an individual over the age of 55 to transfer the Proposition 13 base value of their property to a new residence in the same county as long as it doesn’t exceed the value of their current home based on its sales price. While this provides a tax benefit to seniors, any cost to government is made up when the first home sells and goes on the assessor’s books at market value for tax purposes. Without being able to retain their Proposition 13 tax base, many seniors would be locked into their current residence, unable to move, and their homes would remain off the market.

Under current law, a married couple can only take advantage of this tax exemption once. AB1378 would allow each individual in a married relationship to take advantage of the exemption, allowing them to move a second time and transfer their lower tax base. The result is increased residential flexibility that benefits our seniors.

With life expectancy increasing, we cannot assume that individuals will remain in the same house in retirement for 30 years. Individuals may decide to move again to be closer to their children or because of health difficulties that makes their current home impractical. They should not be punished with higher property taxes in retirement for circumstances that may be beyond their control. AB1378 is a common-sense proposal that adapts California law to the changing lifestyle requirements of our aging population.

Just like the small, often overlooked, belt buckle can have tremendous impact on the success of a pair of pants, these unheralded bills, AB809 and AB1378, have the potential to contribute significantly to the well-being of all taxpayers. AB809 and AB1378 deserve to be adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Air Board Asks Courts to Create New Tax

carbon-tax-1In a landmark case before the Third District Court of Appeal, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) recently argued for creation of an unprecedented tax doctrine that could raise billions of dollars in new revenues. The ARB described the new revenue not as a tax or a fee (or any other recognized revenue-raising mechanism), but as a “byproduct” of a regulatory program.

The case, California Chamber of Commerce v. California Air Resources Board, challenges the legality of the cap-and-trade auction ARB set up as part of its program to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to meet goals outlined in AB 32, the climate change law.

CalChamber is arguing that (1) the ARB exceeded the authority the law granted it by reserving GHG allowances to itself and auctioning those allowances to GHG emitters to raise revenues, and (2) such an auction is a “tax” requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which was not obtained.

(CalChamber is not challenging AB 32 or the cap-and-trade mechanism itself, because the goals of AB 32 can be achieved effectively using cap and trade. In fact, the efficacy of cap and trade to meet the GHG reduction goals would be unaffected in the absence of the auction.)

The lawsuit aims to prevent the powerful regulatory agency from expanding its reach beyond the boundaries set by the Legislature, and to maintain the integrity of the revenue-raising rules of Proposition 13. But the ARB has raised the stakes even higher by suggesting that the revenues raised by the auction are neither taxes nor fees.

The auctions so far have raised nearly $1.6 billion in revenues that have been deposited into state coffers. The Legislative Analyst has estimated the auction will raise tens of billions more dollars by 2020.

The ARB instead claims that the auction is a legitimate exercise of its regulatory powers and that the billions in new revenues are “incidental” to that regulation. In fact, the ARB flatly states that the auction was not enacted for the purpose of increasing revenues; therefore, it is not a tax.

The Air Board had previously acknowledged that the auction revenues resided comfortably within the state’s tax system, and as “a non-distortionary source of proceeds” could be used “as a substitute for distortionary taxes such as income and sales taxes.”

The lead doctrine on determining whether a charge is a fee or a tax is the California Supreme Court decision in Sinclair Paint v. Board of Equalization. The court held that a regulatory fee is legitimate if (1) there is a reasonable relationship between the amount charged and the burdens imposed by the fee payer’s operations; (2) it is not used for unrelated revenue purposes; and (3) the remedial measures funded with the charge are caused by or connected to the fee payer’s operations. Lacking any of these factors, the charge is a tax.

Since it is apparent that the auction cannot meet these criteria, the ARB dismissed Sinclair’s relevance, stating that the “requirements that govern fees are not useful for reviewing other exercises of the police power.” Even though the ARB claims the revenues are incidental to a regulatory program, it declined to label them as “fees.”

In other words, the ARB has asked the court—in the case of fees imposed for regulatory purposes—to disregard the leading doctrine on regulatory fees.

To be sure, there are charges that government legitimately imposes that are neither fees nor taxes which fit comfortably within the Proposition 13 rubric: special assessments and development fees for infrastructure, charges for goods and services, fines and penalties for law breaking.

But the ARB has sought refuge in none of those time-tested revenue constructs. Instead, it has asked the court to invent a new, unique category of non-tax, non-fee, non-assessment, non-penalty, non-service charge that fits the auction revenue system.

The ARB is seeking a safe harbor for revenues “incidental to regulation” that it claims are not regulatory fees, and which will generate tens of billions of dollars for new spending programs that somehow are not taxes. In fact, next year the revenues from auctions will be one of the largest sources of state revenues—and bound to grow as the ARB allocates even more allowances to itself.

CalChamber has vigorously disputed this new doctrine, calling it “unprecedented, undemocratic and amorphous.” Proposition 13 and the Sinclair decision have limited and rationalized tax and fee doctrine for 37 years, setting out the rules that balance operational flexibility with accountability.

The Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments in this case later this year.

 is president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Berkeley Soda Tax: First Month’s Take, $116,000

As reported by the Contra Costa Times:

BERKELEY — Several City Council members and other boosters of Berkeley’s first-in-the-nation soda tax giddily reported the first month’s haul — $116,000 — on the steps of the municipal office building on Milvia Street on Monday.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli, a prominent booster of the freshly enacted tax, projected the first year’s proceeds at about $1.2 million.

On Nov. 4, voters approved Measure D, a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on the distribution of most sugar-sweetened beverages, by a better than 3-1 margin, even though, as a general tax with proceeds to go into the general fund, it needed only a simple majority.

The city did not estimate what the tax might bring in, but …

Click here to read the full article

Despite record tax haul, CA legislators seek to raise rates

tax signWith a big tax surplus flowing into state coffers, California shattered records last year with a historic haul dwarfing those of other large states around the country. This year, meanwhile, legislators planned still further increases.

“During the 2013-14 fiscal year that ended last June,” the Sacramento Bee reported, “California collected $138.1 billion in taxes of all kinds, 16 percent of all state taxes collected in the nation and more than the next two states, New York and Texas, combined.” The majority of the sum came from personal and corporate income taxes, according to the Bee.

Money maze

At first blush, California’s cash-in promised straightforward results. “Through the end of March, state general fund revenue was about $1.3 billion ahead of projections,” Jason Sisney, California’s chief deputy legislative analyst, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “April revenue is likely to add at least $1 billion more than projected.”

But thanks to the Golden State’s arcane fiscal requirements, revenue was set to be apportioned in counterintuitive ways:

“Under the state’s budget formulas, ‘virtually all or more than all of the additional revenue, relative to projections, may be required to go to schools and other statutory and budgetary commitments, such as the state’s rainy-day fund and debt payments,’ Sisney said. As a result, ‘The amount of extra state money available for other purposes could be little or nothing, and in some scenarios, reducing non-school spending on programs could be required.’”

Tax watchers, the Chronicle noted, paid special attention to a surge in taxes amassed through payroll withholding. In a report cited by the Chronicle, Standard & Poor’s called the increase “a sign that California’s economy is firing on all cylinders.” But that interpretation did not extend to the Golden State’s self-employed economy, since entrepreneurial taxpayers don’t have their taxes withheld in advance by an employer.

New hikes foreseen

Despite the influx of revenue, legislators have not been satisfied with tax rates. Assembly Bill 464, introduced by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, “would give local governments the power to add another 1 percent to the combined state-local sales tax rate with voter approval,” the Bee reported.

Senate Bill 16, meanwhile, introduced by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would hike several of California’s car-related taxes and fees. “The measure would increase the state gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon, raise the state vehicle annual registration fee by $35, and levy a $100 per year surcharge on zero-emission vehicles that don’t use gasoline,” The Bond Buyer noted. “Beall’s plan also would phase in a 3.5 percent increase in state vehicle license fees over five years.”

On at least one issue where elected officials remain divided, the prospect of higher taxes has deepened. Although the push to legalize marijuana in California would presumably bring more tax revenue to Sacramento, Colorado’s uneven experience with the process has led to increasing reticence among Californians who don’t want to struggle with similar problems. As CalWatchdog noted previously, Coloradan legislators have divided over what to do with the excess tax revenue.

Up in smoke

marijuana-leafThe indirect tax consequences of legal marijuana could also mount. At a recent panel convened by the Northern Californian chapter of the ACLU, “Paul Gallegos, a former district attorney in the marijuana-growing heartland of Humboldt County, noted that a pot plant needs 6 gallons of water each day over its 150-day growing cycle,” according to ABC News. Amid California’s protracted drought, water rates and rationing penalties could be dramatically effected.

Finally, more comfortable on more familiar ground, some legislators have re-trained their attention on increasing taxes on tobacco products. State Sen. Richard Pan, D-San Francisco, “wants to raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 a pack, to bring in $1.5 billion a year for smoking prevention and smoking-related medical costs now borne by taxpayers through Medi-Cal, the state’s healthcare program for the poor,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Soda Tax Difficult to Swallow in Berkeley

The city of Berkeley, Calif., is finding it’s not so easy imposing a soda tax. Since the tax’s Jan. 1 imposition, retailers find it’s a burden changing prices for just one type of item in one city.

Measure D, officially the City of Berkeley Sugary Beverages and Soda Tax, last November overwhelmingly was passed by 76 percent of city voters. The tax is a penny per ounce. So a 16-ounce Coke would be hit with 16 cents. There are exceptions for small businesses.

The measure passed even though the soda industry spent $2.4 million against it, an estimated $30 per registered voter. Opponents warned of increased costs to consumers.

The pro-Measure D coalition called itself Berkeley vs. Big Soda. It maintained on its website, “We face a serious health crisis:40% of kids will get diabetes in their lifetimes unless we do something about it. The link between sugary drinks and diseases like diabetes is undeniable.”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, a Berkeley resident, wrote in the Huffington Post in favor of the tax, “Berkeley’s Soda War pits a group of community organizations, city and school district officials, and other individuals (full disclosure: I’m one of them) against Big Soda’s own ‘grassroots’ group, describing itself as ‘a coalition of citizens, local businesses, and community organizations’ without identifying its members.”

The text of Measure D claimed “this Ordinance is to diminish the human and economic costs of diseases associated with the consumption of sugary drinks by discouraging their distribution and consumption in Berkeley through a tax.”

Measure D set up a new bureaucracy, the Sugar Sweetened Beverage Product Panel of Experts, to recommend to the City Council how to spend the taxes collected.

Compliance

But things are turning out more complicated than expected. Camilo Malaver co-owns the San Francisco-based Waterloo Beverages company, reported Berkeleyside. “In January, when the tax was implemented, Malaver decided to stop restocking his supply of craft sodas and naturally sweetened beverages in Berkeley to avoid further confusion. … His frustration was aimed primarily at the city for what he saw as a poor job relaying information on how to comply with the tax.”

Malaver said, “Berkeley is a good city to do business with the university, but now, it’s tough. We’re in limbo. Everybody’s lost and [we] don’t know what to do.” The university itself, as a state entity, is exempt from Measure D.

A problem is that the soda market has changed from the days when the market mainly was such Big Soda suppliers as Coca-Cola and Pepsi. As with the craft brew markets for beer, “craft sodas” have popped up like those sold by Malaver.

When potentially hundreds of different items are involved, that complicates trying to figure out if a beverage is taxed, or is exempt. For example, the ordinance taxes “heavily presweetened tea,” but not regular tea, or slightly sweetened tea.

The big distributors offering a limited number of different drinks more easily can comply than can the small or medium outfits. As Berkeleyside notes, “All but one of the distributors who spoke to Berkeleyside were small- to medium-sized local distributors that sell craft sodas, sweetened teas and energy drinks.”

The confusion over what to tax also is reminiscent of the controversy over the statewide 1991 Snack Tax. As part of a $7 billion tax increase to close the budget deficit of that year, the tax was imposed on formerly exempt snacks. Except that some snacks, such as nuts, remained exempt. But it wasn’t clear whether candy with nuts was taxed, or exempted.

The Los Angeles Times reported in October 1992, “SACRAMENTO — A year and a half ago, part of the answer to the state’s dire need for higher revenue was extending the sales tax to snack foods, candy and bottled water, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Pete Wilson.

“Today, with the signatures of nearly a million Californians standing behind Tuesday’s ballot measure to repeal the tax, no one — not the governor nor a single lawmaker who voted for it — has stepped forward to support keeping the tax.”

On Nov. 3 that year, two-thirds of voters backed Proposition 63, which repealed the tax.

Dollar Tree

Meanwhile, one large outfit affected by the Berkeley soda tax is discount chain Dollar Tree. A 16-ounce soda formerly cost $1, plus Berkeley’s 9-cent sales tax. (In California, sodas are taxed, unlike most other food). Now on top of that is placed the new soda tax of 16 cents (1 cent per ounce). Total: $1.25.

Berkeleyside reported in January, “Dollar Tree — which sells a variety of products for $1 or less and has more than 5,200 stores in North America — decided to pull out sodas in its Berkeley stores when the soda tax went into effect on Jan. 1, according to Randy Guiler, vice president of investor relations.”

Guiler said, “Due to the increased cost from the Berkeley sugary drinks and soda tax, we are no longer able to carry sugary drinks and soda at the one-dollar price point.”

Ironically, Dollar Tree still sells fruit juice, even when it is saturated with sugar, because the beverage is not subject to the new tax.

Future taxes

A 2013 bill for a statewide soda tax, SB622, died in committee. It was by state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel. According to the March 2 Sacramento Bee, it’s unlikely to come back in the Legislature any time soon.

A tax increase still requires a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature. With Republican gains last year in the Legislature, Democrats’ two-thirds supermajority is long gone. And if there’s one thing Republicans can agree on, it’s opposing higher taxes.

That leaves anti-soda forces hopeful that Berkeley’s example can be poured out into other cities, even though 30 previous tries have failed.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

TAX REBELLION: Obama Abandons Plan To Tax Americans’ College Savings

President Barack Obama is abandoning his proposal to eliminate Section 529 – the popular tax break used by millions of Americans to save for college — following a big backlash, not only from Republicans and parents, but also from his own Democratic allies.

“Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support, as well as the president’s broader package of tax relief for child care and working families,” a White House official said Tuesday.

According to The New York Times, Obama and his advisers were lobbied directly by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi while she flew with the president on a flight from India to Saudi Arabia. Other Democrats, including House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, were also big critics of the proposal.

So-called 529 plans (named for a part of the tax code) are a popular way for many Americans to save for higher education, as any withdrawals made from the plans are not subject to taxation as long as they are used to pay for college. The plans were a part of the 2001 Bush tax cuts, and Obama himself voted to make them permanent in 2006, using them to save $240,000 for his daughter’s educations. According to the College Savings Plans Network, about 12 million children are estimated to be the beneficiaries of such accounts, spread across 7 million households. (RELATED: Obama Pushing Taxes He Fought Against In The Senate And In His Book)

Obama had argued that 529 plans primarily benefit high earners, but critics argued that it was also a popular option for millions of middle-class households as well. Just hours before the White House caved on Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner slammed the proposal, saying that the plans ”help middle-class families save for college, but now the president wants to tax those plans.”

Some state treasurers spoke out as well, since their states have tried to encourage college savings by offering to match contributions to the plans up to a certain dollar amount.

While the White House countered that any loss for the middle class from 529 reform would be offset by other college affordability proposals the president was making, the backlash ultimately proved too great and forced the president into a hasty retreat.

“This was a textbook case of the broad middle class of the country rising up in a true brushfire rebellion,” Ryan Ellis, tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. ”Oh, and if this was a dress rehearsal for increasing taxes on IRAs and 401(k)s, consider the experiment a failure.”

While the 529 tax hike is gone, Obama is still pushing for an increase in the capital gains tax rate, and for the closure of a loophole that reduces the amount of capital gains tax paid on inherited assets. These increases, it is hoped, will in turn provide the money to fund several proposals Obama has made to try reducing the cost of college, such as expanding tuition tax credits and providing two free years of community college.

Follow Blake on Twitter

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Tax Hikes Loom for 2016 Ballot

Although it may seem far in the distant future, there has been a great deal of speculation regarding what ballot propositions might appear on the 2016 General Election ballot in California.  Focusing on just those proposals having the potential for real harm to taxpayers, here is our short list:

SALES AND INCOME TAX EXTENSION — An extension of the temporary sales and income tax increase voters approved with Proposition 30 in 2012 is being advocated by public sector labor leaders.  The proponents will argue that, since Californians are accustomed to paying these higher rates, it should be more palatable to voters to make these tax increases permanent as opposed to some “new” tax.

OIL SEVERANCE TAX — An oil severance tax – taxing petroleum as it is extracted – is likely to be advanced by those who see an opportunity to soak an unpopular industry. They will count on the public not noticing that these taxes will be passed on to California drivers in the form of higher gas prices.

SPLIT ROLL PROPERTY TAX — Those on the far left are salivating over the prospect of an increase in property taxes for commercial property.  This attack on Proposition 13 would split the tax roll so that business property will pay much more. The impact on small business and jobs will be glossed over with the usual platitudes like, “It’s for the children.” They will totally ignore that higher taxes on businesses are passed through to consumers in the form of higher costs for goods and services.

TOBACCO TAX — A tobacco tax is also in the offing.  The state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 87 cents.  Those wanting more tax revenue would like to add another two dollars and will probably also claim it is a blow for public health because it will help smokers quit.  Even if one opposes smoking, it has to be acknowledged that tobacco taxes are highly regressive as well as leading to more black market commerce which, by the way, goes untaxed.

LOWERING OF THE TWO-THIRDS VOTE FOR BONDS AND/OR PARCEL TAXES – Of greatest concern to California homeowners is the possibility that the two-thirds vote requirement for local bonds and parcel taxes will be eliminated.  These levies are repaid only by property owners.  How realistic is this threat?  Considering that, for the first time since Prop 13 was passed in 1978, a house of the California legislature actually passed this anti-13 proposal (ACA 8) the threat is very real.

BAG TAX – The “bag tax” – a charge on single use bags – is actually not a tax increase proposal. Rather, this tax was enacted by the legislature but is now subject to repeal via the referendum power by those opposed to the tax. The tax reflects “nanny government” at its worst.

Here are a couple of observations about this potential tax “tsunami” at the ballot box. First, the threat from anti-taxpayer initiatives is even higher than in prior years because, for 2016, it is much easier to qualify initiative measures generally.This is due to the fact that the signature requirement is based on the most recent election’s voter turnout. 2014’s historically low turnout means that initiative measures now need far fewer signatures to qualify than in previous years.

Second, what happens if all these tax hikes appear on the ballot?  Would this be the ultimate “Dooms Day” for taxpayers?  Perhaps.   But, in an odd way, it might be a positive development. By overreaching and asking for the moon, the tax-and-spend crowd might ensure defeat of all the measures as voters begin to add up how much these proposals, in the aggregate, are going to cost.

Third, while Californians in the last election were fairly generous in passing local tax measures, this does not necessarily translate into support for state tax hikes. Voters’ recent support for Proposition 30, discussed previously, was based on a perceived crisis for education if the taxes were not approved. Plus, the hikes were sold as “temporary.” Those conditions are not currently present. Californians are increasingly aware that we live in a high tax state and resistance to higher taxes will be high for the foreseeable future.

In any event, expect to see the groundwork laid for these and other tax raising initiatives very soon.   It will be important for taxpayers to pay close attention and to keep a tight grip on their wallets.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This article was originally published on HJTA.org