We’ve all heard of “situational ethics.” This column is about “situational transparency,” a phenomenon among progressives who love transparency in matters of public policy, except when they hate it.
Let’s review the areas in which progressives support transparency: the salaries of CEOs, the race and gender of employees, the details of business supply chains” and, of course, extensive disclosures about campaign finance.
But in other matters, particularly relating to their own interests, the same people are flatly opposed to transparency. For example, progressives claim to desire disclosure of who pays for political advertising, and they backed legislation such as Assembly Bill 249, a burdensome mandate to add confusing content to political ads. It was so burdensome, in fact, that an exception was made for ads paid for by labor unions, major backers of progressive politicians.
Progressives also campaigned hard against Proposition 54, the California Legislative Transparency Act, which voters approved despite liberals’ complaints. Prop. 54 requires that bills must be posted online in their final form for at least three days before lawmakers can cast a final vote on them. Proposition 54, which the voters approved in 2016, also requires the Legislature to make video recordings of all public hearings, and it allows any member of the public to record a legislative hearing.
Another example of how those in power resist having the public see what they are doing involves public employee compensation. For years, government agencies and departments have resisted disclosing how much their managers and employees are paid in both salaries and benefits. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had to file numerous lawsuits — or threaten lawsuits — to get local governments to disgorge the data. After prevailing in all those actions, compensation data is now available for public inspections — a healthy development in countering government entities that constantly plead poverty and demand higher taxes.
Perhaps the most glaring example of progressive hypocrisy when it comes to transparency is revealed by the defeat of Senate Bill 1074, authored by state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, which would have provided California’s millions of motorists with valuable information about the price of gasoline. Titled “Motor Vehicle Fuel: Disclosure of Government-Imposed Costs,” SB1074 would have required gas stations to post near each pump a breakdown of all the different costs that go into the price per gallon of fuel, such as federal, state and local taxes and costs associated with environmental rules and regulations, including California’s hidden tax, the permit fees that fuel producers have to pay under the state’s infamous cap-and-trade law.
As you might expect, the progressives who control the state Legislature refused to provide the public with the true cost of government when it comes to driving our cars. The same folks who rail against the oil companies and who are quick to allege deep conspiracies about corporate profits have no interest in informing the public about government-imposed costs that dwarf the oil companies’ profit margin on a gallon of gas.
We can also expect them to oppose the government transparency that would be required by an initiative that recently met the signature requirement to qualify for the November ballot.
The Tax Fairness, Transparency and Accountability Act of 2018 would require that any law creating a new, increased or extended tax must contain “a specific and legally binding and enforceable limitation on how the revenue from the tax can be spent.”
Even if the tax revenue will be spent for “unrestricted general revenue purposes,” the law must say so.
California politicians often complain about “ballot-box budgeting” and requirements for voter approval before taxes can be raised. But progressives have earned a reputation for hiding the cost of their policies, and voters can’t be blamed for playing an aggressive defense.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. This column appeared in the Orange County Register.