Steinberg’s Fake Reforms

Fake. Faux. Pretend. Bogus. Phony. There are a lot of words in the English language to describe something that is represented as something it is not.

With all the very real problems facing California today one would think that our state Legislature would enact real reforms. Regrettably however the majority party continues to pursue fake reforms which probably helps to explain the institution’s dismal 16% approval rating.

First given that California can’t seem to break the habit of spending more money than we receive in taxes more attention is finally being paid to “oversight.” Oversight of existing programs is routine in more fiscally responsible states like Utah and Texas but barely gets a nod here in the Golden State. True the State Auditor has received praise for trying to implement the agency’s mission “to ensure the effective and efficient administration and management of public funds and programs.” But expecting that office to adequately address all the waste fraud and abuse in California state government is like expecting a BB gun to take down a rhino.

So along come Senate leader Darrell Steinberg who has created — at taxpayers’ expense of course — his own Office of Oversight and Outcomes. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. Steinberg who represents a district covering much of Sacramento an area laden with large numbers of public employees first goes after the effectiveness of the Governor’s furlough program. While there are some legitimate questions about the furloughs they hardly represent a significant share of the waste in government. Columnist Dan Walters points out that there is massive waste in the administration and management of CalPERS that is likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. As Walters writes “when the Legislature stops wasting taxpayer- financed time on trivia and bores into the CalPERS debacle maybe we’ll take its ‘oversight’ seriously.” Amen.

The second fake reform pursued by Mr. Steinberg involves the budget process. He blames a 76-year-old law requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve a budget for lawmakers’ recent inability to pass a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15 each year. Steinberg is urging his colleagues to place on the ballot a measure — based on one that has been promoted as an initiative by former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg — to eliminate the supermajority requirement.

Hertzberg never considered an ally of the taxpayers was promoting the elimination of the two-thirds vote through his California Forward Committee claiming his proposal had bi-partisan support. However the response was underwhelming. He was unable to raise nearly enough money to gather the signatures to place his proposal on the ballot so he has passed the baton to Steinberg.

Steinberg wants the public to see this measure as “reform” but it is actually an effort to make it easier to spend more money and to increase the pressure to raise taxes.

Sure a budget could be approved quickly with a simple majority vote. But at what cost? Since the concerns of the minority party could be ignored the majority would ram through whatever they wanted without debate. The minority party regardless of which party is in that position at any given time still represents millions of Californians whose concerns deserve consideration.

Steinberg is engaging in political theater. He knows he needs a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to place this constitutional change on the ballot and he is not going to get it.

And if Steinberg’s proposal were to reach the ballot voters would quickly recognize that it is not reform it is just an effort to grease the skids to make it easier to carry on business as usual.

Instead of posturing as a reformer why doesn’t the Senate leader push his colleagues to focus on the real issues facing California like high taxes and a hostile business climate? Instead lawmakers have been hard at work declaring a “No Cussing Week” and renaming the Legislative Office Building.

If not distracted by trivial legislation lawmakers could implement the number one reform taxpayers would like to see: Legislators rolling up their sleeves and focusing on making California a more livable state. That would be a real change.

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.