PROPOSITION 13'S; Howard Jarvis; A LITTLE TO THE RIGHT OF ATTILA THE HUN?
New York — Everyone complains about taxes. Howard Jarvis does something about them. Mr. Jarvis, known around the country as the co-author of the Jarvis-Gann Amendment in California -- or Proposition 13 -- is on the loose again.
This time instead of marching around the nation decrying government spending and taxes, Mr. Jarvis is promoting his new book, "I'm Mad as Hell." To no one's surprise the book elucidates his ideas with the same plain language Mr. Jarvis uses when talking to suburban taxpayer groups or a knot of government bureaucrats. Mr. Jarvis is full of ideas about scything government down to manageable, affordable size.
On property taxes: "I would like to see property taxes cut out entirely, not just in California, but in every state that now has such a tax . . . . Income taxes are fairer than property taxes because they are related to ability to pay."
On increasing public participation in government: "Most of the elections in the country these days are nothing more than a contest between the Republican women's clubs and the AFL-CIO." Mr. Jarvis's solution: everyone must get out and vote.
On elected officials: "We have a very low grade of people who get elected to public office. They have big mouths and big stomachs, but they also have very small IQs." Thus, Mr. Jarvis wants to encourage more people to take an interest in working for the government so there is a greater pool of talent to draw from.
On limiting the number of government employees: "Civil Service is an organization where you do nothing, you think nothing, you innovate nothing, you don't rock the boat. The only thing you're there for is to retire and get a pension." Mr. Jarvis's solution here would be to limit the number of government employees.
Although Mr. Jarvis's opinions might be considered by some to be "right of Attila the Hun," he professes not to hold a brief for either the Democrats or Republicans. Still, he worked as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's California campaign manager and until 1962 was a "rock-ribbed Republican." Today, he says, his ideal president would be William Simon, Richard Nixon's Secretary of the Treasury.
Since Mr. simon is not running for office, Mr. Jarvis would support a Reagan-Connally ticket. However, if Mr. Reagan is elected, Mr. Jarvis says he should serve only four years. As for Sen. Kennedy, Mr. Jarvis says he would prefer to vote for President Carter, "as bad as he is."
Politics at this point more or less bores Mr. Jarvis. "The only difference between the Republicans and Democrats," he expounds, "is that the Republicans know they are crazy, while the Democrats don't."
But tax issues don't bore the Californian. He is in the middle of another referendum, which would cut California's state income tax in half: pointing to the state's recent $3 billion surplus, Mr. Jarvis declares it is a crime to collect taxes while the state sits on the extra money.
And, he points proudly to the fact that the state's economic growth has outpaced the nation's since passage of Prop. 13. Robert Bregzfelder, an economist at the Commerce Department, attributes two full percentage points of Californians' rise in personal income to Prop. 13, for example. To Mr. Jarvis, Prop. 13 is proof of the so-called Laffer curve, devised by professor Arthur B. Laffer and indicating that a cut in taxes will result in more personal income and thus more consumer spending -- increasing the state's revenues taken in through the state sales and income taxes.
At the same time, the state has seen its employment base increase, according to Mr. Jarvis, by some 500,000 new jobs. Last January, alone, the state added 91,000 new jobs, up from an increase of 43,000 jobs in December, says economist Eric Thor of the Bank of America.
There has been a marked impact on the public payroll: some 100,000 workers have left, although only 18,000 were actually laid- off. The others either retired and were not replaced or quit.
There is also little doubt that Prop. 13, also called "the great California earthquake," resulted in a change in public services. Users' fees, for example, increased dramatically so that Californians found themselves paying fees to use their libraries and tennis courts. Income to local municipalities increased by
Property taxes naturally declined, and this was welcome relief to many homeowners. Mr. Jarvis points out that some 7,500 homeowners were defaulting on their property taxes each month prior to the passage of Prop. 13. "Now no elderly citizen or minority can say he or she can't afford to own land," intones Mr. Jarvis.
Lest anyone consider Mr. Jarvis a "do- gooder" for these sentiments, it's worth noting that the passage of Prop. 13 helped fatten Mr. Jarvis's pocketbook as well. As a landlord, Mr. Jarvis received considerable savings.
However, as the head of an apartment owner's association, he attempted to get other California landlords to freeze or roll back rents.
Once Prop. 13 was passed overwhelmingly by the voters, Mr. Jarvis became a celebrity overnight. The William Morris agency, which usually handles Hollywood stars, contracted to "book" Mr. Jarvis on television talk shows, college campus tours ($1,500 per lecture), and business meetings ($5,000). The agency suggested Mr. Jarvis write his book and, sensing even greater possibilities, said it would work on getting a movie made of the tax fight.
Exactly when, or if, a movie version will ever be made is unclear at the moment, says Mr. Jarvis. And, who would star as the plain- speaking, podium-thumping Mr. Jarvis might stretch the imagination of even the most creative casting director.
Fame hasn't brought all roses to Mr. Jarvis. He makes enemies easily, including the co-author of the Prop. 13 referendum, Paul Gann. Mr. Gann has been quoted as calling Mr. Jarvis "irrational." Mr. Jarvis counters by saying Mr. Gann is "jealous" of all the publicity Mr. Jarvis has received.Mr. Gann goes on to say that Mr. Jarvis has "a very difficult problem with the English language. It's hard for him to get above a two-letter word." Make that a three-letter word, Mr. Gann: "tax."