When Samuel Johnson said "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he'd obviously never seen California politics. If he had, he would have known that tragedy is actually the last refuge, as seen in recent attempts to link the state's devastating fires to repeal of the car tax.
"Heroes Ride on the Car Tax" is how a Los Angeles Times editorial took refuge in the tragedy. If the car tax were reduced to its legal level, warned The Times, the funds that pay for our heroic firefighters would be decimated.
Wrong. Five years ago, a series of legislative enactments reduced the car tax by two-thirds. Local governments, which pay for firefighters, never lost a penny of funding because the law fully reimbursed them from the state's General Fund. The law even provided that if the state should go bankrupt, funds would still flow to local governments through a temporary, month-to-month car tax increase directed by the state controller.
In June, Gov. Gray Davis tripled the car tax by fiat while cutting off reimbursements to local governments for three months. His action cost cities and counties $1 billion in lost revenue and cost motorists an additional $4 billion in unauthorized taxes. The only time local governments have lost money from the car tax is when Davis raised it.