Three Ways to ‘Fix’ Government

Three recent news stories illustrate why, to those not drawing a check from taxpayers, government has become about as popular as a swarm of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

Story number one tells how a firm owned by the late Alfred Villalobos will pay the state of California $20 million to settle charges of bribing officials of the California Public Employees Retirement System.

Before his death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Villalobos pled guilty to bribing CalPERS officials to make investments through him, which allowed him to earn about $50 million in commissions. The former CalPERS CEO Fred Buenrostro also pleaded guilty to criminal charges for accepting bribes. For Villalobos, the “fix” was literally in.

That this criminal activity could take place in a major state agency is troubling on a number of levels. First, it puts at risk the security of thousands of government workers who will depend on funds from CalPERS when they retire.  Second, that this bribery conspiracy went on for a number of years, without being discovered, raises the troubling question: What else don’t we know? And taxpayers, as well as the workers contributing toward their pensions, have a right to ask if the $20 million settlement even comes close to compensating them for their loss which appears to be at least $30 million more.

It is clear that Villalobos and his co-conspirators’ way of fixing government fits into the widely held image of insiders dishonestly taking care of themselves at the expense of the general public.

A second story tells of efforts by State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon to “fix” government in his own way. While his plan may not be illegal, it is unlikely to engender confidence in government among the general public.

Apparently, the senator, a self-styled environmental crusader, is concerned that the South Coast Air Quality Management District, whose 13-member board is made up of ten local elected officials and three appointees by the Sacramento politicians, has a Republican majority and these members may not be zealously following his blueprint. The Republicans have been accused of committing the “sin” of giving a fair hearing to businesses, businesses that provide thousands of local jobs.

To insure rigid adherence to his views, de Leon, a Democrat, is attempting to stack the deck by introducing legislation that would add three additional board members all to be appointed by Sacramento.

Our last story related to “fixing” government, comes out of Santa Clara County. After an inmate was beaten to death in the county’s main jail, Sheriff Laurie Smith requested through official channels that video cameras be installed. Told that her plan would cost up to $20 million dollars and take two years to implement, Smith decided to fix the problem herself. Using her own credit card, she purchased a 12 camera system at Costco for $761, which has now been installed.

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished and, instead of being praised for her initiative to fix an immediate problem, the sheriff has been criticized by some officials for acting unilaterally and for using the cameras as a “publicity stunt.”

These three examples of diverse approaches to “fixing” government are more evidence that often, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, government is the problem.

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.