California should stick to the basics

In this time of New Year’s resolutions, here’s one for California: Stick to the basics. Unfortunately, our elected leadership believe that any problem needs a government solution. This mindset has caused California to lose focus away from important functions that are properly within the purview of government.

Here’s a short list of matters that our public institutions can and should address. Quickly forgotten, especially among modern progressive politicians, is that the first responsibility of government is to preserve liberty.

Second, no one disputes that government has a responsibility to protect its citizens. At the national level, we have a formidable military force and intelligence agencies to counter threats to the nation from foreign interests. At the local level, citizens expect their cities and counties to provide adequate police and fire protection.

Third, Americans also believe that education is a public function, especially in the primary grades. But here again, there is a wide divergence of views on the best way to educate our children. Public charter schools offer an independent alternative to established district schools. Quality education is available from private schools, and homeschooling is becoming more popular. This trend is a direct indictment of the failure of public education in many places.

There are more areas where direct government involvement is warranted. Public health, especially in the era of a pandemic, requires some government direction. That does not entail, however, heavy-handed edicts unmoored from legitimate legal authority.

At the state level, our elected leaders and bureaucrats have failed miserably to deliver on the most basic of government functions. The fraud in the disbursement of unemployment benefits has reached $2 billion. And our leaders can’t blame that level of malfeasance on the emergency nature of the pandemic.

California, the birthplace of high-tech, still suffers from massive problems with the state’s computer systems, resulting in billions of dollars of wasted public funds. With transportation, the state has the highest gas tax and yet we still rank in the bottom ten of all states in road conditions. Instead, we spend billions on a failed high-speed rail project that was supposed to receive a third of its money from the private sector. That investment never showed up because private investors know a losing proposition when they see one.

Rather than sticking to the basics, politicians in California would much rather create some new program that receives short-term media attention. But the real problem is that every new program comes with its own set of regulations and a new army of bureaucrats.

For example, there is now a push in California to create “public banks,” notwithstanding the failure of those institutions in other states where they have been attempted. California also is trying to create a retirement savings program for private-sector employees, notwithstanding the readily available existing programs that are a phone call away. Finally, there is a push to have California to develop its own generic drugs.

If California looked to other states that have growing economies and whose citizens are not leaving, they would discover that what citizens want from government are good public services for a fair price with a minimal level of waste, fraud and corruption.

When he was first elected, Gov. Gavin Newsom promised some “big, hairy, audacious goals” that would drive his administration toward a more progressive California. Maybe he and other politicians should just focus on keeping our streets safe and the lights on.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.