Newsom a barrier to tech progress

In 2013, then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote “Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government.” The book advances the idea of how government could use technology to “house the needs, concerns, information and collaboration of an enlightened digital citizenry.” The book was both well-written and compelling.

Given the innovative ideas advanced in his book, it was disappointing to see the governor veto two bills that would have used technology to improve citizens’ accessibility to their government.

First, Senate Bill 675 would have authorized a county board of supervisors, if they so choose, to allow property owners either over the age of 62, or those individuals on SSID regardless of age, to pay their property tax in monthly installments. But the ability to bill in monthly installments, ubiquitous in the private sector, and already possible in states including Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas, was apparently too much for the Golden State. Gov. Newsom vetoed the bill, stating that Californians struggling to pay their property taxes already had options and that the bill contained “significant administrative and fiscal burdens.”

Despite Proposition 13, many retirees and seniors on fixed incomes still struggle to pay their property taxes in two big lump sums.

SB 675 simply would have given homeowners an additional option to pay their taxes in a timely manner and, at the same time, allowed them to incorporate property taxes into their monthly budgets. But the governor’s newfound fiscal restraint when it comes to investing in things that would benefit the taxpayer and the inability for government to implement widely accessible technology apparently got in the way.

Another example of a Newsom veto inconsistent with his earlier writings involved Assembly Bill 339. AB 339 would have enhanced community engagement by requiring public meetings of city councils and county boards of supervisors to include options for people to participate online or by telephone, as they were able to do during the pandemic. Opposition from local governments forced the bill to be narrowed to include what was apparently the poison pill, that it would only apply to cities and counties with more than 250,000 residents.

Newsom vetoed the bill, stating it would “set a precedent of tying public access requirements to the population of jurisdictions” but also that the bill “limits flexibility and increases costs for the affected local jurisdictions trying to manage their meetings.”

Government was able to master the technology during the pandemic, but to allow people who would otherwise be unable to make it down to city hall or the county office on a weekday and sit through five hours of interlocution before being allowed to make their three-minute-or-less comment was simply asking too much.

Regrettably, these two vetoes reflect only the latest examples of California’s opposition to technological innovation. Exhibit A to this inexplicable resistance is, of course, the billions of dollars that were lost to EDD fraud. Years of auditor’s reports highlighted the technological and procedural issues at the unemployment office, but the governor, his predecessor, and the Legislature chose to act only after the horse was out of the barn.

Nor did they act on the DMV, where Californians were made to suffer through long lines and out-of-date technology until the revelation of a secret DMV office for VIPs near the state Capitol embarrassed the governor and Legislature into action.

The argument that California doesn’t have the public resources to invest in technology that makes paying property taxes easier or increases public participation in local government simply doesn’t wash. Certainly not while we’re still spending billions on a bullet train to nowhere. That project might have been a technological triumph when Leland Stanford was governor, but not Gov. Newsom, the technocrat who wasn’t.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.