Ask any of the politicians in Sacramento if they believe in government transparency, full disclosure of their official actions and the open and honest operation of state functions, and they will, to a man and woman, answer with a resounding, “yes!”
That must be why Speaker John Perez has struggled mightily to block the release of documents that would show how much each Assembly member spends on their office. Perez has handled this as if lawmakers’ budgets were a top secret matter, revelation of which could have dire consequences for national security. More likely the only dire consequences will be for the public image of the spendthrift members of his flock.
Perez has been so intransigent about keeping the Assembly’s books closed to the public that the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times were forced to file suit under the 36-year-old Legislative Open Records Act. The court has just issued a ruling agreeing with the newspapers, and compelling release of the records. As the documents become front page news, the speaker may find himself doubly embarrassed. First because of the revelations of wasteful spending of taxpayer-supplied funds and, secondly (and perhaps even more damaging) because of his efforts to conceal this information from the public.
The Assembly leader would have done well to abide by the principle espoused in the old oil filter commercial, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later” when it will be a lot more expensive. However, the idea of doing the right thing in the first place is often lost on the Sacramento political class.
Of even greater consequence to average Californians is the shell game Gov. Brown is orchestrating to impose a $3.2 billion energy tax.
A shell game is, of course, not a game at all. It is a confidence trick. The operator of the swindle appears to place a pea under one of three walnut shells and quickly shuffles them about. The sucker, or mark, is urged to triple his money by betting on which of the shells covers the pea. The mark never wins because, in fact, using sleight of hand the operator has palmed it. Yes, fellow taxpayers, in the Sacramento version of this game, we are the marks.
Back in August, a $3.2 billion energy tax extension was rejected by a bipartisan vote of the State Senate. The tax is called the “Public Goods Charge” and the nomenclature is another example of how Sacramento likes to mislead and confuse the public. This tax extension would have been tacked onto Californians’ utility bills. Politically connected green energy interests lobbied hard for passage so they could continue to receive handouts for themselves at the expense of rate payers. The tax extension measure needed a two-thirds vote but did not muster even a simple majority.
A casual observer might think that this was the end of the matter and $3.2 billion would now be secure in taxpayers’ wallets.
After the Legislature voted down this tax, Jerry Brown immediately engaged in sleight of hand. He sent a letter to his friends at the Public Utilities Commission asking them to approve the tax “administratively.” Expect this “pea,” or charge, to magically reappear on utility bills shortly. It may be named something else and laundered in a way to bureaucratically circumvent the requirement that state taxes be approved by a two-thirds vote, but no matter what it is called, it will be a $3.2 billion burden on California utility users.
And finally, in a story reported in both the Sacramento Bee and San Francisco Chronicle, the High Speed Fail, er, Rail Authority has wasted millions of dollars on an extensive public relations effort seeking to bolster the flagging public support for this massive boondoggle. Despite overwhelming evidence that this project can never be built, it appears that the only people getting rich are politically connected p.r. hacks. Meanwhile citizen taxpayers are stuck with the bill.
At a time when automatic spending cuts to the state budget are about to be triggered, our Legislature continues to let this fiscal disaster continue. Even Jerry Brown has doubled down on high-speed rail stating that the project has his support.
These three examples are only a small part of what is wrong with governance in California today. Is it any wonder that people don’t trust politicians?
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.