Profligate: adjective; recklessly prodigal or extravagant.
Given the experience of the recent recession one would think that our state political leadership would have learned the dangers of profligate public spending. The most recent economic bust and the dot com bust which preceded it should have served as a stark reminder about the consequences of growing government faster than economic growth and the failure of not planning for another downturn.
But this is California — the state with one of the lowest ratings for effective governance and efficient use of tax dollars. And by the way that’s not just a disgruntled conservative complaining. By any objective criteria including the respected Pew Center for States California is a state where its citizens are taxed and regulated to a very high degree in return for a dismally poor level of public services.
On Sunday afternoon just a few hours before the constitutional deadline for passing a budget the leadership of the majority party almost broke their arms trying to pat themselves on the back for the budget deal they just completed. Thanks to Proposition 25 passed in 2010 — a measure which was sold to voters as increasing transparency and accountability — state budgets can now be passed with a simple majority vote of each house meaning that the far more fiscally responsible Republicans are now wholly shut out of the process. And for that promised transparency? Virtually the entire budget was negotiated behind closed doors among left leaning Democrats.
The result is not good for California taxpayers. First state spending is projected to skyrocket to over $156 billion dollars. That is a huge increase over just last year.
Second the budget envisions significant increases in government program spending of an ongoing nature rather than one time expenditures. As any Sacramento observer knows this is a recipe for disaster. It is California’s proclivity to expand government programs which gets us into such trouble when the inevitable downturn arrives. Moreover building in higher levels of government programs will surely increase the political pressure for extending the Prop 30 tax hikes which gave California the highest income tax and state sales tax rates in America. But then we suspect that is exactly the politicians’ strategy.
While the particulars of the budget which reveal its foolishness are too many to list two are illustrative of why California remains the fiscal laughingstock of the United States.
First the budget proposes to spend $250 million in “cap & trade” funds for the infamous High Speed Rail project. These dollars are forced exactions from California businesses and utilities under California’s one of a kind “climate change” law. The exactions are clearly a tax — currently being litigated — ultimately borne by all California citizens in the form of higher energy costs and more expensive goods and services.
As for the HSR project itself earlier in the week Congressional leaders in Washington as much as said that California will get federal funding when hell freezes over. Matching federal funds — and private investments — were what California voters were promised when they approved a bond for a much less expensive rail project years ago. But neither is forthcoming and this is but one reason the project is tied up in litigation.
The irony here is that an arguably illegal revenue stream is being used to fund an illegal public works boondoggle under the theory that the project will somehow reduce global warning. The ultimate absurdity though is that the Legislature’s own analyst concluded that at least for the first several years the construction of the project will actually produce more greenhouse gases not less.
The second insult to taxpayers is the expansion of universal preschool programs demanded by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg. The expansion of these programs — demonstrated to have no positive effects on future learning — will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions. The irony here is that earlier last week in a stunning ruling against California’s grossly ineffective public school system a judge found that the teacher tenure rules and seniority rules so disadvantaged school children that it violated their civil rights. The ploy by Steinberg to expand preschool had nothing to do with improving education. The sole purpose was to expand the rolls of union paying teachers. And yet this line item in the budget does nothing except increase the size and scope of a corrupt and ineffective bureaucracy.
It has been said that laws are like sausages — it is better not to know what goes into making them. Since the budget is the centerpiece of all annual legislation perhaps that’s why most Californians choose to remain unaware of what goes into it. But citizens remain ignorant at their own expense.
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.