Hey, New Jersey and Chicago, you have nothing on California. For several years, the Golden State has tried to be number one among all states in tax burden — and, of course, we are very close to that prize. But now we seem to be striving for a new number one title: The most corrupt state in America.
By now, few people in California haven’t heard about the latest in corruption scandals emanating from the California Legislature. In a nutshell, liberal San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee has been indicted on multiple counts of conspiracy, money laundering and arms dealing. (The latter charge is particularly ironic given the fact that Yee had recently won an award from the Brady Campaign for his work in support of gun control).
Just a couple of short weeks ago, this column noted how, in a perverse way, the systemic corruption in the Capitol had actually provided a silver-lining benefit to taxpayers. With the suspension of two other California senators, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright, liberal Democrats in the upper house had lost their two-thirds supermajority and thus had lost both the ability to impose tax hikes and propose constitutional amendments which could weaken or repeal Proposition 13. The indictment and subsequent suspension of State Sen. Yee is a further blow to the left’s agenda of fleecing taxpayers even more.
But while taxpayers may cheer the damage done to our anti-taxpayer adversaries, we can’t help but be concerned about the collateral damage this corruption might inflict on political engagement by citizens. It is true that, as fiscal conservatives, we preach a healthy distrust of government and that certainly won’t change anytime soon. But we also recognize that if we had the kind of government which more closely reflected what our Founding Fathers intended, we wouldn’t have nearly the depth of cynicism and disgust on the part of voters.
The sad fact is that corruption leads to less engagement and that leads to more bad government, including endemic corruption. And, by the way, this isn’t just happening at the state level. Ask the citizens of the City of Bell whether they believe they should have been paying closer attention to what was happening just down the street at City Hall.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, in the wake of the Yee indictment, gave a self-serving speech on the floor of the Senate defending the integrity of the institution and actually called for public financing of campaigns. (As if giving taxpayer dollars to ethically challenged politicians would cure the problem). Steinberg did get one thing right, though. He said that there is no ethics training in the world that would stop someone from dealing in weapons if they were predisposed to engage in such blatantly illegal activity.
The better answer, of course, is to scale back the size of big government in California. Government that tries to do too much creates opportunities for influence peddling and other mischief. It would do California a world of good to return our Legislature to a part-time institution where our elected officials would be forced to spend more time among the people they purport to represent.
California voters were told decades ago that having a full time Legislature would bring a degree of professionalism to government that would be the envy of America. Moreover, our political class has so thoroughly manipulated the system that we also have the highest paid legislators in the country. (By the way, all three of the corrupt senators who have been suspended are still drawing their hefty paychecks).
We respectfully submit that California’s experiment in big government has been an abysmal failure. It is time to return to a part-time Legislature with part-time salaries with no additional benefits (they should have real jobs) so that the sullied reputation of the California Legislature can begin a long needed decontamination process.
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.