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Former governor George Deukmejian recently passed away at 89. Many Californians have little memory of the Golden State’s 35th governor, who served from 1983 to 1992. Millennials and such may be unaware that Deukmejian was the last California governor to return surplus funds directly to taxpayers in the form of a check. In 1987, he signed the largest tax rebate in California history, a $1.1 billion refund in surplus state money that put checks of up to $236 in the mail to taxpayers. As the governor explained, “I think we can be very pleased that we were able to protect this money for the taxpayers and that we have honored the spending limit enacted by the voters through the initiative process.” That was a reference to 1978’s Proposition 13, the last measure truly to limit taxes and spending, but the significance was deeper.
The tax-and-spend lobby howled long and loud over the plan to return money to the people. Deukmejian knew who pays the bills, and that the state does not have a prior claim to what workers earn. So he protected the money for the taxpayers who provided it in the first place. That practice is long gone and California now imposes the highest income and sales taxes of all 50 states. And if you don’t like the new $5.2 billion gas tax, Governor Jerry Brown calls you a “freeloader.”
Politicians now protect government bureaucracies, however useless and wasteful, from any meaningful reductions much less the elimination they deserve. Instead of protecting money for the taxpayers, politicians protect government from any meaningful accountability. George Deukmejian is gone, but he won’t exactly be resting in peace.