A Statement on Tax Policy
[A letter by Jackson H. Ralston to the California
State Board of Equalization. Reprinted from Land and Freedom, March-April 1936]
On March 10, removing the State Capitol so far as you are concerned (at whose expense?) from Sacramento to Death Valley,
at the latter place you passed resolutions broadcast throughout the
State "vigorously opposing" what you termed a "Single Tax initiative" on the November ballot. You have also resolved that the
repeal of the State sales tax would deprive this State of such an
amount of money during the next biennium as would threaten the
"integrity of our public school system and require the levying of a
ruinous ad valorem tax on property."
I would be the last to question the constitutional right of any one
or all of your members to proclaim as loudly as you might care to do
so your want of acquaintance with economic law and its inevitable
workings. When, however, you gentlemen gathered together as a
state board of equalization undertake to do the same, several questions arise in my mind which I submit to you for solution with as
much respect as the circumstances of the case permit.
Is there anything in the laws of the State of California which make
you an advisory commission to the voters of the State upon the subject of taxation? Is there any reason why you should enforce upon
the people your more or less ill-digested opinions in the hope that,
dazzled by the prestige of your office, they will be led to vote against
the interests of the immense majority?
Are you able to cite a single recognized authority upon the subject
of sales taxation who will defend such a system?
Do you know, individually and collectively, that even the Controller of the State has declared publicly as well as in correspondence,
that the sales tax is not helpful to the small home owner, as of course
it is not to the non-property owner, while he at the same time says
that it is beneficial to the large holder of lands?
What excuses have you, collectively, for undertaking to advise
the less fortunate classes of the State of California to vote against
their own interests? Might not such advice be called a piece of
Again I am inclined to wonder whether you know the meaning of
the words Single Tax which you so glibly, and I may properly add,
so inadvisedly, denounce. If you know the meaning, then you known
that the amendment in question, while supported by many of the
arguments which favor the outright Single Tax, does not propose the
taking of all land values for public uses, but only such as are necessary,
to replace taxes withdrawn from improvements, tangible personal
property, and objects needed for public consumption.
Is it any part of your duty to attempt to excite prejudice against
such a measure as this, which will relieve every non-property holder
who, nevertheless, is and must be a taxpayer, and practically every
one of the small householders of the State, transfer the burden of
taxation which is crushing them, to the great owners of landed wealth
created by the whole community and amounting to very many billions?
Is there any justification whatsoever for your allowing your statistical bureau to create hobgoblins as to the loss of property to ensue
upon the adoption of the amendment for the purpose of persuading
the immense majority of the people of the State to vote against their
own interests? Why should you allow its chief to be a little Orphan
Annie Kay to deceive the superstitious?
Are you not conscious that the measures you have taken as a body
and through your so-called statistical bureau have been aimed at conserving the interests of the great landed wealth of California in the
hands of its rich owners?
Are you excusable, much less justifiable, in undertaking to use the
time which belongs to the State to engage in propaganda against the
best interests of the community as a whole?
Have you not learned that the schools have created and are maintaining land values far in excess of school costs, and that these and not
business, necessities and industry of the people should pay the expenses of education?
I refer again to the first question, and desire earnestly to know by
what authority you as a board are undertaking to advise the voters,
denying at the same time your right to give any advice as a board,
whether in accord with my own ideas or opposed to them.
I ask information in the foregoing respects as at least an appreciable taxpayer in the State of California, and would be glad to know
if it is not time for you to resume your administrative duties, rather
than undertake to act in an advisory capacity to people whose needs
you so manifestly do not understand.