COLUMN RIGHT / JOEL FOX : The People Want a Vote in Their Taxation : A few pennies here, a few pennies there, and soon you’re talking about a yoke.


The “mob” opposing a school mainte nance assessment district in Orange County was described as “almost maniacal” by Jerry Sullivan, a trustee of the Huntington Beach Union High School District.

The “mob” that raged against Britain’s infamous Stamp Act in Boston was described as full of “ill humors” by Francis Bernard, royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

There are great similarities between the spontaneous outburst of California property owners to the imposition of taxes in the form of assessment districts in the summer of 1991, and the colonists’ reaction to the British Stamp Act of 1765.


Members of the Sons of Liberty tarred and feathered stamp agents to protest the tax, which required that stamps be affixed to such things as business licenses, legal documents, diplomas and newspapers. Modern-day tar and feathering of officials who voted for a new tax on property comes in the form of recall petitions.

Proponents of the assessments don’t understand what all the fuss is about. A consultant for one school district claimed to be mystified that a lawsuit was brought against an assessment that amounted to $2.50 per property per month. This strategy of breaking down a tax to a seemingly insignificant amount is not uncommon to those who seek more taxes. When the bond proposal for the 911 network was placed on the Los Angeles city ballot last spring, proponents argued that the tax would amount to 3 cents a day.

But then the stamps that were required to be affixed to documents in 1765 started at half a penny a stamp.

A few pennies here, a few pennies there, and soon you’re talking about a yoke of taxes.

Most of the new special assessment districts were set up to aid education. Thus those who support the taxes try to change the focus of the debate from taxation to education. How could the tax protesters be opposed to funding education?

The Stamp Act was instituted to provide funds for defense of the colonies. The primary function of any government is defense of its citizens. How could the tax protesters of two centuries ago be opposed to funding their own defense?


Neither education nor defense was the issues in the protests. The issue was, and is, taxes and how they are levied.

While the battle cry of East Coast Americans was “no taxation without representation,” the taxes on the West Coast have been levied by duly elected officials. Wasn’t the revolution fought to establish a representative government?

Yes, but even Colonial leaders protesting the Stamp Act always expressed the idea that first the people had to consent to being taxed. The thought that representative governments make tax decisions came second.

In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry proposed seven resolutions against the Stamp Act. One called for “taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear.”

The Stamp Act Congress, the first intercolonial meeting in America, declared that “no taxes be imposed on them (the people) but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives.”

The Colonists complained of the arrogance of the taxing authorities. That is why they wanted to tax themselves. The same cries can be heard today under representative government. In Port Hueneme last month, more than half of the affected property owners objected to a beach-area assessment district; the City Council passed it anyway.

The people are demanding a vote to raise local taxes.

California School Superintendent Bill Honig jumped into the fray over maintenance assessment districts, supporting the idea of a majority vote of the people to approve the district in place of a vote by school trustees. However the requirement of a two-thirds vote for tax increases was not only part of Proposition 13’s property-tax-protection plan, it has also existed in the state Constitution since 1879 for bonds backed by property taxes.

The way we tax ourselves--how much is taken and how it is taken--is a measure of our freedom.

Facing withering and continuing protests, many of the maintenance assessment districts have been rescinded. Facing an outraged populace, the Stamp Act was rescinded.

At the time, a New Yorker wrote that when people became “turbulent and uneasy” it showed “a certain sign of maladministration” in government. His words echo down through the years.