Last week this column set forth the various messages that were sent to our political leaders via the stunning defeat of the budget "reform" package of Propositions 1A-1E. Despite stacking the deck and outspending opponents by at least 10 to 1 nearly two-thirds of voters rejected the proposals and the $16 billion in tax increases they would bring.
Among the messages sent by the voters is that the status quo is over. ‘No’ is going to be a new word in the lexicon of many of our elected leaders. They are going to have to shut off the spigot of taxpayer revenue for their powerful political constituencies that have controlled Sacramento for so long.
Also voters were crystal clear in statement about their tax burden. Voters are not happy about carrying the highest tax burden in the nation so our public employees can continue to be the highest paid in all 50 states and so that special interest contributors get tax breaks. The post hoc rationalizations by various left of center pundits about how this was not a vote about taxes range from weak to silly.
Another message — one that has been sent by voters before — is that deception in politics can be fatal as well as immoral. The worst thing our elected officials can do is try to fool the voters. Here the notion that Prop 1A had nothing to do with tax increases (the Governor’s early position) didn’t even pass the laugh test. The effort by the legislature to present a deceptive ballot title ballot label ballot summary — as well as cherry-picking the arguments "against" — was despicable. And it backfired.
Knowing that the voters sent these messages with a high degree of clarity the next question is to discern whether they were received by their intended audience — California’s existing political leadership and if so what will be the response? Some of the Governor’s early reactions were quite positive. Indeed at least for now he is sounding like the man we elected to replace Gray Davis and who triumphantly rode into Sacramento to blow up the boxes. After Tuesday’s rejection he has stated in fairly clear terms that further tax increases are off the table.
Even the Democrat leadership is being very reticent about saying the "T" word too loud. Seems as though that last Tuesday was an epiphany.
But then the next question — and one that responsible taxpayers have been asking for years — is whether in their drive to cut government spending will our elected leaders exact revenge on voters by cutting programs most working and productive citizens want and need or will they reduce spending by targeting our most wasteful and corrupt programs first?
Will the Integrated Waste Management Board be eliminated before the California Department of Forestry eliminates positions? Will the legislature hold hearings on the labor abuses rampant throughout California government at all levels? (For example LAUSD pays 160 teachers not to teach — they just show up to work and do nothing except collect their paychecks). Or will California’s best and brightest teachers be fired before the lazy and incompetent ones are laid off?
Will our elected leaders dust off the California Performance Review and begin to implement its recommendations for streamlining government enthusiastically or will they just go through the motions implement a few minor provisions and claim that there is no more fat in state government? Will our legislative leaders breath new life into JLAC (Joint Legislative Audit Committee) and aggressively review long existing state programs to see first if the program is still as high a priority as it was when the authorizing legislation was enacted and second assuming that the answer to the first question is yes is the program being administered in a cost effective manner?
Will dangerous inmates be released early or will the Department of Corrections reduce the costs of incarcerating prisoners? California is perhaps the least efficient in corrections costs nearly double the per-inmate costs of the national average. Taxpayers would be well-served if political leaders ignored the political influence of the prison guards and seriously considered contracting out prison services.
These are legitimate questions and voters will be watching to see if the reductions in state spending are imposed in a rational manner preserving our most needed programs — especially public safety — or whether our political leadership will exact some sort of revenge against voters for turning down the proposals on May 19th. Regrettably we have already heard some legislators adopt a "we’ll show them" mentality as they review spending priorities.
But that would be a mistake. Our elected leaders have already made one huge political miscalculation this year. Cutting needed programs and services while leaving vast amounts of waste fraud and abuse will not be tolerated by the voters. If that occurs and Californians perceive that our elected leaders are reacting to the May 19th election like a petulant child the stern message of the May 19th vote will pale in comparison to the reaction of voters during the next election cycle when most of these leaders have to face reelection.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.