The Public Interest

On understanding Proposition 13

Frank Levy

Summer 1979

ANY subject worth studying spawns at least two schools of thought. So it is with the current taxpayers’ revolt. There is, first, a “macro” school of analysis, which views events of the last 14 months as a series of similar responses to a few root causes. The causes are rapid inflation, rising taxes, and the growing size and arrogance of government. The responses inelude California’s Proposition 13, subsequent ballot initiatives in other states, and calls to limit Federal expenditures through a constitutional amendment. This broad view, congenial to the requirements of television news, has little use for the details that distinguish one state’s tax-reform initiative from another’s. As one young economist put it: “Those who would look [for explanations] to the circumstances of individual states are wasting their time.”

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