During the week previous to his inauguration as the new old governor, Jerry Brown let it be known that, in his view, taxes are going to have to be raised. What a shock. During the campaign, his promise to raise taxes only with voter approval was clear evidence of his true intentions to balance the budget by further burdening California’s already beleaguered taxpayers.
But even the hard-core collectivists in the formidable spending lobby know that this is going to be a hard sell. According to Capitol Buzz, the taxes he seeks to raise are the very ones rejected by the voters in May of 2009 with the defeat of Prop 1A. Moreover, voters just rejected the two statewide tax increases less than two months ago — the modest parks tax and the elimination of corporate tax breaks. What makes the tax and spend lobby think that May or June of this year will bear a different result?
Perhaps Jerry & Co. are counting on a residual honeymoon period coupled with his powers of persuasion. After all, Arnold was already a spent political force by May of 2009. Is it possible that, in 2011, a straight talking political icon can convince voters that higher taxes are needed?
Not likely. First, while Jerry and the Democrat controlled Legislature can pass a budget while ignoring the Republicans, the same cannot be said of raising taxes or, for most matters, placing something on the statewide ballot.
Second, and more importantly, there is nothing to suggest that voters are any less distrustful and cynical than they’ve been for many years — including through the Gray Davis era and, later, when an action hero promised to “blow up the boxes” and ended up being totally co-opted by the very political elites he railed against.
Voter disgust is quantifiable. A just released poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California confirms what I hear daily from Californians concerned about high taxes and state spending: A majority of Democrats, Republicans and Independents, according to the survey, believe that people in state government waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes.
They’re right, of course. Examples of waste, fraud and abuse are neither minor nor marginal. They are substantial and involve billions of dollars. Only those who are part of Sacramento’s tax-and-spend culture argue that mismanagement and waste by state officials isn’t that big a deal.
One of the reasons taxpayers believe their money is being misused is that state operations lack the kind of robust auditing and transparency sorely needed to keep bureaucrats accountable. Something Schwarzenegger got right was the creation of the Office of the Inspector General to oversee the state’s spending of more than $50 billion in federal stimulus funds. This wasn’t just window dressing. He gave the new operation instant credibility by appointing to the post a proven taxpayers’ watchdog, former Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, whose take no prisoners approach had Los Angeles officials working overtime to avoid being exposed for mismanagement.
Although the Inspector General’s new office was provided only a small budget and staff, during her brief tenure, Chick released over 30 reports finding more than 100 problems with stimulus spending in state departments, cities, counties, non-profits and workforce investment boards. By comparison, during this same period, the behemoth Bureau of State Audits (BSA), with an annual budget of $18 million, released only 22 reports.
Given this history, one would think that the Inspector General’s efforts would be held up as an example of what we need more of in government. But remember, this is Sacramento and change agents are not glorified, they are vilified. The hidebound bureaucracy fears those willing to look under rocks and probe dark places, and so eager were the bureaucrats to get rid of the outspoken Chick that they pushed Governor-elect Brown to make the elimination of her office one of his first budget cuts.
If he were looking for brownie points with taxpayers (pardon the pun) Jerry erred in closing Chick’s office. The cost was minimal — the actual savings on paper by closing the office is $700,000, but seven of the 11 employees are borrowed from other departments and are going back to fill their old jobs so there is no savings there. Also, the majority of her office budget is reimbursed by the feds so the actual dollar savings to the state budget is minuscule.
So, before he has even taken the oath of office, Jerry Brown has elevated tax increases to the top of his “to do” list and eliminated an office that was actually shining the light of day on government waste.
And he expects voters to approve his demands for more revenue?
The proverbial snowball has better prospects.
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.