Fiscally, the State of California is on life-support. The core functions are barely funded and nothing much is being done to address the tsunami of debt and deficits that have severely weakened our economy and our sense of well-being. You would think in the midst of cities and counties declaring bankruptcy that our leaders in Sacramento would put their collective minds together and come up with a plan to ameliorate the dire situation we find ourselves in. Well, in some ways, they have!
Sacramento is a three trick pony when it comes to paying the bills: raise taxes, borrow money, and steal money. Unfortunately, most Californians are woefully ignorant of how often our state government has reached into their bag of tricks and just how much damage has been done as a result.
With respect to taxes, California, in virtually every category, has the highest tax rates in the nation! This hurts families and business and prevents our economy from growing. Low tax states like Texas actually saw their economy grow during this so-called recession, in fact, they gained as many jobs as California lost. Taxes and Texas make a difference in our ability to create and retain jobs. Companies and families are leaving California and taking their money with them.
With respect to borrowing money, every time the state of California sends out an unemployment insurance check, they are doing so on borrowed money. We owe the federal government over $10 billion. Moreover, California owes billions in bond payments. Voters have passed bonds not realizing that this money must be paid back, with interest, and that the payments encumber the state’s general fund. We have funded very expensive infrastructure and so-called water improvement projects. We even use some of the money for conservation projects that end up taking land off the tax rolls, thereby making our fiscal situation even less viable.
With regard to stealing money, the favorite dupe is local government. Back in 1992, when the the state could not afford to pay its obligation to schools they took away property tax money from local government and used that money to pay their own obligations. This property tax shift has cumulatively cost local government over $100 billion. That is money that used to pay for roads, buildings, parks, and public safety. The state also raids other funds to make ends meet, including the current raid on monies that were supposed to be used to address climate change.
Perhaps, the most insidious aspect of this legislative malpractice has to do with the complicity of local government. Our local elected officials are loath to expose our state representatives and their bag of tricks. Partly, this has to do with the fact that these public servants are all cut from the same political cloth. They don’t look at the public as people they are elected to serve but as sheep to be sheared. Case in point? Assemblyman Das Williams authored legislation to amend Proposition 13 by lowering the threshold to get bond measures passed. In other words, he wants to make it easier for local government to do what Sacramento does all the time, borrow money! Is that really what we need right now? More public debt?
The bottom line here is that government has not been paying their bills as they come due. They are spending most all of the money they have on government employee salaries and pensions and boondoggle projects, such as high speed rail, while ignoring pressing obligations. We need new leadership and a new vision, not more debt.
This editorial was first published in the Santa Barbara News Press.
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