Prison realignment. Transportation and other local-government fund raids. Health and welfare mandates. The list goes on and on. I don’t need to tell PublicCEO readers that state government hasn’t done local government finance any favors.
By forcing us to do more with less, Sacramento politicians have crippled local government balance sheets. And they’ve further compounded our problems by driving jobs out of the state. They’re largely responsible for California’s economy performing even worse than the national average.
But instead of reining in their habit of creating new autopilot spending programs that only add to an already too-big bureaucracy, state politicians have come up with a new ballot-box boondoggle. Proposition 29 on our June 5 ballot creates yet another government bureaucracy… even though we can barely afford to fund the programs we already have.
Prop. 29 is a feel-good measure sold on the back of supporting cancer research. But like other well-intentioned government programs created at the ballot box, it’s full of so many flaws and so little accountability that it could never live up to the hype. Need I remind readers of the high-speed rail fiasco?
This June – at a time when voters are being threatened with real cuts to schools and public safety, and with a slew of measures already on deck to raise taxes in November – Prop. 29 would raise taxes by an additional $735 million.
I don’t support raising taxes regardless, but even if you think new tax revenue is needed to shore up our balance sheet, would you take that new revenue to pay for existing programs, or launch a whole new, unaccountable program? Prop. 29 does the latter.
Prop. 29 is not only new spending, but in too many cases, it’s also full of wasteful spending.
Don’t get me wrong – we all support cancer research. But Prop. 29 allows an unaccountable bureaucracy made up of political appointees to spend $110 million every year to buy equipment, buildings and real estate. An additional $15 million of our tax dollars could be spent on pricey consultants, pension and travel each year. It allows for a very well-paid CEO with a fat salary and benefits. One can only wonder if disgraced former state Senator Don Perata, the man behind Prop. 29, has his eye on that job after failing to get elected mayor of Oakland?
The commission Prop. 29 creates will have unchecked power to give our tax dollars to whomever it chooses. In fact, under Prop. 29, our tax dollars can be sent to any state or country the commission chooses; our money doesn’t even need to be spent in California. What’s more, the commission set up by Prop. 29 is allowed to award grants to the very institutions its members represent!
Not unlike the First 5 commissions established by Prop. 10 in 1998, Prop. 29 could end up costing the state and local agencies more money in the long run. Some First 5 agencies grossly misspent their money, meaning the dollars taxpayers intended for childcare were actually going to pay commission staff members’ salaries and other overhead costs. Not too long ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that an independent audit of First 5 LA revealed a stunning “lack of transparency, accountability and competitive bidding.”
Furthermore, Prop. 29 continues the horrible policy of basing a spending program on a declining revenue stream. The proponents say they want people to stop smoking – as do we all. But if this happens, who will pay for the programs mandated by Prop. 29 and other tobacco-tax-funded mandates?
Local governments are already scrambling to ensure children can continue to receive services and programs during these tough economic times as First 5 money declines. And if that past experience is any indication, it won’t be long until taxpayers and local governments are asked to foot the bill for the out-of-control government bureaucracy created by Prop. 29.
Right now, cities and counties are faced with the very real prospect of laying off teachers and police officers; the last thing we should be doing is allowing the state to create another new billion-dollar spending program through Prop. 29.
Local governments should stand against this misguided measure, demand that Sacramento stop its out-of-control spending habits and stop sending down new ballot-box boondoggles.
Peter Foy is a Ventura County Supervisor.