If there was any question whatsoever as to whether California has gone completely off the rails, proposals in the new state budget should remove all doubt.  Perhaps the most egregious of these involve changes in state law as they relate to health care.

As of this writing, those proposals have yet to be adopted by both houses of the legislature – which is constitutionally required to pass the budget bill by June 15th every year – but statements by legislative leaders have caused a great deal of angst among the taxpayer public.

First among the inexplicable ideas is the proposal to force citizen and legal immigrant taxpayers to pay a new healthcare tax in order to subsidize healthcare for California residents who are living in the country illegally. Yes, you read that right.  The tax that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to impose is a penalty on all those who don’t comply with the “individual mandate.” If this sounds familiar, it should. The individual mandate was a key component of Obamacare at the federal level until the penalty was repealed by the Republican-led Congress in 2017.

If it passes, California would be one of only four states imposing a tax on those who won’t or can’t obtain the kind of health insurance coverage the government requires. The state-imposed mandate would parallel the federal mandate which, in 2016, amounted to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of yearly household income, whichever was higher. The tax is projected by Newsom to generate about $1 billion over three years.

Adding insult to injury, a portion of that $1 billion generated would go to provide healthcare coverage to people living in the country illegally. Currently, full-scope Medi-Cal benefits are provided to illegal immigrants up to the age of 19. This proposal, estimated to cost about $100 million, would extend that eligibility to the age of 26.

We doubt that imposing a healthcare tax on citizens and legal residents to generate funds for healthcare benefits for illegal residents will resonate with voters. At this point, it is unclear whether the penalty will be labeled as a tax by the legislature. Its inherent unpopularity might compel politicians to call it a “fee” or a “charge” instead of a tax.  But proponents need to understand two things.  First, the United States Supreme Court has labeled Obamacare’s penalty as a tax — indeed that is the only thing that saved Obamacare’s constitutionality and, second, California voters know a tax when they see one.

In California, if the Legislature imposes a tax, it must receive a two-thirds vote of each house. Because the Democrats have a solid two-thirds-plus majority, one would assume that this threshold will be met. However, after the recall of then-Sen. Josh Newman for his support of the infamous gas tax hike, and the recent drubbing of Measure EE in Los Angeles, who knows what moderate Democrats may be thinking about voting for a new tax hike.

Finally, there is something unseemly about the individual mandate and the penalty for non-compliance. The tax for not buying insurance was one of the Affordable Care Act’s most unpopular features and many Americans cheered when it was repealed as part of the federal tax reform legislation.

The notion that government can force you to buy a product that you may not want is inconsistent with basic precepts of freedom and individual responsibility. In resurrecting the individual mandate and penalty, California is only reinforcing its image as a high-tax and limited-freedom place to live. That’s probably why more than one million residents — mostly middle class — have bailed out to other states that still retain a modicum of sanity.

Democrats get SLAPP’d for First Amendment Violation

Democrats pay lip service to the First Amendment and claim to encourage political engagement but, in reality, their desire is to silence all views but their own. Last month, a Court of Appeal made them pay for their hypocrisy.

In 2017, one of the most hotly contested political issues in California was the imposition of a huge increase in the state’s car and gas taxes. While the effort to reverse that tax increase failed when voters — victims of a highly deceptive campaign — rejected Proposition 6 last year, the political fallout from that tax increase reverberated in other ways.

For example, as a result of his vote for the tax hike, then-Sen. Josh Newman was the subject of a successful recall campaign. That effort was supported by a number of grassroots organizations such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Reform California as well as the California Republican Party.

To say that the Democrats were angry at the recall of one of their own would be an understatement. In retaliation, they arranged for the filing of a lawsuit against HJTA, the CRP and the firm that managed the recall petitions alleging that somehow voters who signed the recall petition were fooled into thinking they were signing a petition for the repeal of the gas tax.

The allegations in the complaint were silly on their face. Recall petitions are clearly identified as such and even include a prominent statement from the official who is being recalled. Only someone completely oblivious would fail to understand what they were signing.

It was abundantly clear from the outset that the lawsuit was not about remedying any real harm. It was about punishing those who challenge the all-powerful Democratic establishment in California and chilling any future recall efforts by forcing those who exercise their right to recall to pay large amounts of legal fees.

Lawsuits such as these are called SLAPP actions — which is an acronym that stands for strategic litigation against public participation. They are intended to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

But filing SLAPP lawsuits against an individual or organization for engaging in protected political activity is a dangerous thing. California, like many states, has an anti-SLAPP statute designed to stop such frivolous legal action dead in its tracks.

Because the Democrats’ complaint sought to punish First Amendment activities such as petition circulating and speaking to voters, HJTA filed a special motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. While the trial judge initially ruled for HJTA in his tentative ruling, he reversed himself to permit the plaintiffs to add a claim for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Again, seeking to resolve SLAPP litigation quickly, the statute provides that a denial of an anti-SLAPP motion is immediately appealable.

Last month, the Court of Appeal issued its decision reversing the trial court and directing the lower court to grant the anti-SLAPP motion and dismiss the case. In a succinct ruling, the court stated that HJTA “is entitled to the grant of its special motion to strike because Plaintiffs’ lawsuit arose out of Jarvis’s protected petitioning activity, and Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden to establish a probability of prevailing on their fraud claim.”

We hope that the outcome of this litigation serves as a wakeup call to the majority party in California. They may have virtually carte blanche political power, but they can’t silence either our voices or our constitutional rights.

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. For more information, visit www.hjta.org.