Would you commit to buy a car, a house or even a jacket without knowing the price? Unless you are a member of the one percent, chances are, you want to know what it will cost you before you make a purchase.
But what about ballot measures that can cost every citizen hundreds or even thousands of dollars? At the state level, the Legislative Analyst’s Office has the responsibility to provide a “fiscal impact” analysis – that is, information to voters as to the costs to taxpayers of passing a proposition.
But this isn’t currently required at the local level. And those backing attractive sounding, but costly, measures like it that way. They prefer to keep the public in the dark. If a county measure promises to create new parks in every neighborhood, it may sound great, but taxpayers should know what it will cost them before they cast a vote.
Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do deserves credit for proposing a measure that would require a cost analysis by the county’s Auditor Controller for all county initiatives, and his colleagues deserve praise for agreeing to place it on the June ballot for voter approval.
The big question is why every local tax raising entity is not required to provide a non-partisan cost analysis for their sponsored ballot measures as well as those placed on the ballot through the initiative process.
Skeptics say that requiring a cost analysis might deter voters from approving a worthy measure, for example one relating to public safety. This argument was dismissed by Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who pointed out that voters are much more likely to vote no on an ill-defined ballot measure if they are not told what it will cost.
In our country we are going through a political process where the public is expressing its support for plain speaking. There is resentment toward members of the political class who equivocate and use insider terms that many find confusing.
So let’s be blunt. A significant number of local ballot measures are designed to provide an advantage to those inside government, including politicians, bureaucrats and other employees and/or special interests. Requiring a non-partisan analysis would provide voters, who will be stuck with the bill, another tool to evaluate a ballot measure. They can then do a cost/benefit analysis, the same as they would do before making a major family or business spending commitment.
So while Supervisor Do should be thanked for promoting openness in government, why are there so few of our local representatives throughout the state taking a similar stand for full disclosure to voters of the full cost of measures they are asked to approve?
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.