Calbuzz Dustbin: When Jarvis Stormed the Capitol


jarvisThirty years ago this month, California and the nation were gripped by recession as drivers sat in long lines to buy expensive gas – and Sacramento bogged down in political warfare over the state budget.

Ushering in the Capitol’s modern era of financial dysfunction, the budget that year didn’t pass until July 13. At the time, it was an historic delay in missing the deadline to start a new fiscal year, an extraordinary event (back when) decried by editorialists around the state.

Then, as now, the Legislature was dominated by Democrats, and although Gov. Jerry Brown was of the same party, fierce battles raged between the two branches of government, between the two parties and between the two legislative houses, all focused on familiar issues – taxes, state spending for schools and local government and the governor’s proposal for a “rainy day” reserve.

Proposition 13 was just a year old in the spring of 1979, and the political and fiscal decisions with which the Capitol sought to manage – and to blunt – the impact of the $7 billion in statewide property tax cuts were still unfolding amid heated debate.

Into the volatile political atmosphere parachuted Howard Jarvis, the irascible co-author of Prop. 13 and the cranky embodiment of the tax cut movement. Jarvis and his posse came to Sacramento on June 7, the one-year anniversary of the measure; 30 years later, the episode offers a look back in time at some hints of what was to follow.

Jarvis, a burly and profane spud of a man, had come to deliver 150,000 computer-generated letters sent by tax-cut supporters to warn the Legislature, “We’re not going to let anybody get away with a new plot to circumvent Proposition 13.”

One target of his ire was Assembly Bill 8, which radically restructured California’s system of public finance and sent $5 billion from Sacramento to local jurisdictions. Still in effect in 2009, it cast the framework for many of today’s structural budget problems, by putting the state in the permanent business of financing schools, cities and counties.

Surrounded on the east steps of the Capitol by dozens of boxes containing the letters, Jarvis accused then-Speaker Leo McCarthy of a “plot” to undercut Prop. 13, and got into a beef with a reporter who asked him to be specific about the alleged conspiracy.

As a daily report of the incident had it: “Jarvis snapped angrily: ’I’m not going to list all of them. I don’t carry the bill numbers around in my pocket.’”

Among those watching in the crowd was Gov. Brown, who had strolled out of his office “to see what Howard’s doing.” Brown, who had swiftly abandoned opposition to Prop. 13 after passage, offered a few, lyrical pro-tax cut pearls to reporters before Jarvis showed up.

“As yet, the spirit of reality has not penetrated under the Golden Dome,” he said.

As Jarvis spoke, a group of mothers who’d come to Sacramento to lobby for more spending for pre-schools began shouting at him: “What about the schools? They’re ending programs to help,” a woman from Azusa hollered.

“That would be your problem, not mine,” Jarvis yelled back. “It’s absolutely not so. Prop. 13 didn’t have any effect on the schools at all.”

Jarvis then walked into the Capitol, where he and his backers dropped off boxes of letters in legislative offices. All went well until he called on Assemblyman, later Congressman, Doug Bosco, who was meeting with a county supervisor and three fire chiefs from his district.

“We were discussing why there isn’t enough money to put out the fires,” Bosco said later. “In walked Howard Jarvis and I said, ‘Good, you can explain it to them.’”

“Jarvis insisted that reduced property tax revenues allowed by Proposition 13 were more than sufficient to finance essential services,” a future Calbuzzer reported. “When the chiefs asked Jarvis what specific cuts he proposed, he told them, ‘that’s up to you,” which set off “a heated exchange that lasted 10 or 15 minutes before Jarvis left…in a bit of a huff.”

“A short time later, Jarvis wandered by Governor Brown’s office, where he received a considerably warmer reception.”

The more things change…

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There are 8 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    I remember. Leo was a good guy. Willie, who came after him, had threatened to punish.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    IS IT TRUE that Howard was the “inspiration” for the line in “NETWORK – The Movie” – we’re mad as HE*L and won’t take it any longer? Curious minds inquire! 😉

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    WHAT’s a ‘PHINO’ – [something] IN NAME ONLY? That was my word verification and it seemed – at once provocative and inspirational for Sunday morning.

  4. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Actually it was the other way around. “Network,” with Peter Finch as Howard Beale, came out in 1976; Proposition 13 passed two years after. Andy Klein at LA City Beat wrote about this about a year ago at http://tinyurl.com/qwv263 and reported that Jarvis actually improved on the original line, written by Paddy Chayevsky.

  5. avatar Anonymous says:

    Actually the story of this year is that the public absorbed a major tax increase, and except for a handful of talk show idiots, no one complained. (Californians understand that those of who still have jobs are going to have to pay more for taxes a while.)

    The Governor’s recent spin about the defeat of the propositions being an “anti-tax” message is absurd. There were no tax increases in any of the propositions, except arguably 1A — which actually just extended our current tax rates by another two years. But more importantly, many moderates and liberals voted no on 1A because of the ridiculous spending cap provision, which would force California to send even more of our federal tax dollars to other states.

    Many of us who support solving the current crisis through a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts deeply resent the simplistic and self-serving spin the Governor is putting on the special election. As long as budget cuts are being made, we are willing to pay higher taxes temporarily. We showed that through the lack of any significant protest to the February budget deal, notwithstanding the handfuls of extremists saber-rattling about recalls.

  6. avatar gogosian2010 says:

    ONCE MORE – The CRACK RESEARCH DEPARTMENT of ther CalBuzzers come through. During the regular intermission, I’ve been busy blogging on SF Chron [at the linked story – giving a plug to Cal Buzz de rigeaur], re DiFi defiance of a public mandate to run for Guv. I AM SHOCKED! SHOCKED! 😉 As aren’t we all?

  7. avatar Anonymous says:

    When you say: “Jarvis, a burly and profane spud of a man,” perhaps you should also add “and paid lobbyist for the Los Angeles Apartment Owners Association” to put his motives in context?

  8. avatar Anonymous says:

    POSTER ABOVE @10:12 A.m. – Since when is the CA COnstitutional provision for “recall” evolved into sabre rattling? WTF? Along with recalls – progressives [name names here, learned colleagues] also include the referendum and initiatives as counter-balances to legislative a/or gubernatorial excesses. ONLY PROBLEM – With the election calendar being as it is, recalls could not be included simultaneously with the May 19th special election — since our [arguably] esteemed elected legislators control “trumps” on public initiatives, and therefore can co-opt, pre-empt – by scheduling special elections, at our expense, mind you1 – take your poison, lad or lassie.

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