The Riggs Report: Denham says tax bill doesn’t hurt Calif.
November 16, 2017
Amid uproar, Modesto congressman remains a ‘yes’ vote
Central Valley constituents of Congressman Jeff Denham were faced with a blunt message when they opened the Modesto newspaper on Tuesday.
“Tax reform shouldn’t hurt Californians, but the House of Representatives proposal does, in a big way,” read the full-page newspaper ad posted by the California Association of Realtors. “How could any member of the California congressional delegation think this plan is good for the Golden State?”
Denham, one of seven California congressional Republicans who are being targeted for defeat by the Democrats next year, isn’t fazed.
“This is one of those signature items that gives tax relief,” Denham told me from his Washington D.C. office. “But it’s also a promise that we made to grow the economy. A lot of existing growth is in anticipation that we would pass this.”
Denham was elected in 2012 to represent the 10th District, which takes in Stanislaus County and parts of San Joaquin County. He won reelection in 2016 by less than three-and-a-half percentage points, in a district where Hillary Clinton outpolled President Donald Trump.
Is Denham handing his opponents an election year weapon by voting for the tax bill?
“It’ll be difficult for politics to be played,” Denham said. “Ultimately the issue will be resolved in January when people claim not only more deductions, but see a greater amount of take-home pay. People will see this in January.”
Denham said more work is needed on the bill, but rejects criticism that it hurts California taxpayers by eliminating the state and local tax deduction, which is used by one in three taxpayers. In his district, Denham said 70 percent of taxpayers use the standard deduction, which will double under the bill.
Another huge point of conflict, one emphasized by the realtors group, is the proposal to limit mortgage interest deductions to $500,000. Denham said nearly all of the homes in his district are protected, since most mortgage are valued at under $625,000 or are already paid off.
It’s a far different picture, of course, in more affluent parts of California, especially along the coast. Zillow pegs the median home price in Los Angeles at $633,400. It’s double that in San Francisco and is measured at $747,200 in Monterey and $586,800 in San Diego.
The House bill would also cap property tax deductions at $10,000.
Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway told NBC Los Angeles’s “News Conference” last week that California’s real problem has to do with high taxes set in Sacramento, not with the federal tax bill.
Was she suggesting the bill is a way to put pressure on Sacramento lawmakers to lower taxes?
“I don’t see it as being intended that way,” Denham said. “From a House perspective, I have never looked at it as a way to control Sacramento, although we are one of the high-tax states.”
At least one California Republican, Darrell Issa, of San Diego, has announced opposition to the bill. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, three others, including Tom McClintock, of Elk Grove, remain undecided.
But Denham sounds confident the bill will pass the House this week and be reconciled with the Senate version by mid-December. That would give the Republicans a much-needed legislative win in Washington.
It would also mean an even more volatile campaign season in 2018.