The reported instances of waste fraud and abuse of our taxpayer dollars are so common now it takes a lot to shock us. And regular readers of this column know that a pet peeve of those of us at HJTA is when government spends taxpayer dollars to either directly engage in political advocacy or to spend money on a bloated public relations budget.
Under the guise of "getting accurate information out to the public" most of what government does in the p.r. realm is designed to do just the opposite: Convince the public that a new program or tax increase is really what is needed to make the world perfect.
The last few weeks have given us some new examples. First a firestorm of a controversy erupted when the massive Metropolitan Water District attempted to sneak through a 25% pension increase for its already well-paid employees. If it were not for a tenacious reporter talk radio and taxpayer advocacy groups running radio ads that pension hike would have gone through costing 19 million customers in Southern California a lot more on their water bills.
The attempted larceny of taxpayers by the pension spike was bad enough but adding insult to injury it turns out the MWD spent $100000 on a high-priced political consultant to try to get the proposal through. This despite the fact that MWD has a large "external affairs" department with its own public relations staff.
This is like a robber putting on a suit so he looks good to his victims.
Speaking of pension abuse we read with amusement that the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) is now using social networking forums like Facebook and Twitter. Part of the justification was to dispel misinformation being disseminated by its detractors — that would be reporters and taxpayer groups. With all the reports of corruption at PERS it is doubtful that Tweets and posts on Facebook are going to help CalPERS’ reputation and they probably shouldn’t waste the money. Keep in mind that taxpayers are on the hook to guarantee employees’ pensions so every dollar CalPERS spends running its social networking efforts is a dollar out of ordinary taxpayers’ wallets.
At the local level the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is contemplating the hiring of a spokesperson to improve its ability to tell the public about its budget problems. This "director of communication accountability and community engagement" is needed to "communicate to our community the many issues we are facing" said Superintendent of this school district Tim Cuneo.
Oh please. The real reason this "spokesperson" is needed is to sell a parcel tax to voters who would otherwise be very resistant. The real insult? This new position would be funded in part from bond proceeds from bonds approved by voters for capital improvements.
Our star of the week though is the recent announcement that the mega-p.r. firm Ogilvy is slated to get the contract for the High Speed Rail Authority for — brace yourself — $9 million. We have to ask ourselves why does a government agency which has no competition needs a $9 million p.r. budget? Well the real answer is that Californians are coming around to the realization that when a bare majority of them voted for the High Speed Rail Bond they bought a pig in a poke. Told that $10 billion would get us a top flight HSR system it turns out the real price tag is at least $80 billion. Our suspicion is that the $9 million for public relations will be used for damage control once people understand the true cost of this boondoggle.
Taxpayers should know this: That a significant percentage of the taxes we pay are used for slick public relations campaigns to convince us we should pay even more. If this doesn’t make you mad nothing will.
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.