Ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells us that when the Persians decided a matter while drunk, they made a rule to reconsider it when sober.
Recent news from Sacramento tells us that the state Legislature may have adopted at least the first part of the Persian ritual. Members of the Senate were recently issued cards with a phone number they could call 24/7 when inebriated, so they could be picked up at whatever location and be driven home by a Senate employee. When the program became public last week, it withered under public ridicule and the Senate leadership responded by attempting to quietly put the genie back in the bottle by canceling the free service to lawmakers late Friday afternoon.
However, if the “drunks ride free” cards are no longer valid, the questions raised by this elitist perk remain.
The program was probably a defensive reaction to the bad publicity stemming from the drunken driving arrests of four lawmakers in the last five years, but it makes one wonder: How serious is this problem? If taxpayers were expected to pay for this service, should money also be spent providing counseling or detox to those members of the Legislature who drink in excess? Perhaps these cards were a tacit admission that some legislators have a drinking problem,which may boost the argument that some have been making that drug testing should be required for elected officials. Just last year such a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature.
Some will say that safety should be the primary concern, and they would be right, but aren’t our elected officials bright enough to call a cab when they are tipsy? Perhaps they don’t like dipping into their $142-a-day in tax free expense money, which they get on top of the highest legislative salaries in all 50 states. And considering their ability to influence government policy, is it fair to say that it is most likely that the drinks they consume are not paid for by them but by favor seekers?
Although the cost to taxpayers for the free ride program was relatively small – we have a state budget of $170 billion – it is another symbol of the arrogance of the political class when dealing with other people’s money. It is the same kind of thinking that allowed the Senate President Pro Tem to spend nearly $30,000 in taxpayers’ money on his “inauguration” held at the Los Angeles Music Center.
However, whether members have been drinking or not, sober judgement in the Legislature seems in short supply. Currently, under consideration are bills that would boost the California yearly tax burden by $132 billion, according to an analysis just released by the California Taxpayers Association. Just one bill, Senate Bill 8 by Robert Hertzberg, would extend the sales tax to services, like auto repair and gardening, and cost taxpayers a whopping $122.6 billion a year, says the State Board of Equalization. If all these bills were to pass, it would increase the annual tax liability for every man, woman and child in the state by nearly $3,500.
With all these tax increases coming down the pike, it is the taxpayers who may be tempted to take up drinking, although if lawmakers get their way, alcohol along with everything else, may soon cost more. On thing is for sure, there will be no “free ride” for taxpayers.
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.