When I was a boy, I sat at my grandmother’s dining room table and watched as she meticulously went through her monthly bank statements, comparing them with her receipts. If even a penny was missing, she would call the bank.

As I grew, I began to understand that during the Great Depression, which consumed the country during my grandmother’s childhood and teenage years, each penny represented something more: an opportunity. A penny saved today could be a nickel next week, and eventually a dollar.

While California is fortunate to enjoy an extended period of fiscal prosperity and robust reserves, our next economic downturn is inevitable, as Governor Jerry Brown warns us repeatedly with his budget charts. As our Legislature commences the annual budget-making process, legislators should remain conscientious of being responsible stewards of our tax dollars. A misspent or misused dollar today can end up costing taxpayers more tomorrow. 

To highlight the importance of stopping any misuse of vital taxpayer dollars, the California Tax Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to good tax policy and fiscal prudence, launched the Revenue Accountability Project, an online resource that provides California taxpayers with an understanding of how their hard-earned tax dollars are being used, and how the misuse of those dollars can affect future tax rates.

The RAP report uses government financial audits and stories from news outlets around the state that document the misuse of taxpayer dollars, and categorizes them so taxpayers can easily identify whether state or local governments misused tax dollars intended to improve education, transportation or other specific areas of government.

As documented on the website, local governments this year misused more than $860 million, while the state misused a staggering $46 billion, equivalent to roughly one-third of the proposed 2018-19 general fund budget proposed by the governor. The site will be updated with additional examples of waste and misuse as the year goes on. By compiling waste stories around the state into one easy-to-use website, the project provides lawmakers with holistic insight into patterns of how taxpayer dollars are misused and mismanaged, and encourages strengthened accountability and management practices.

One story of wasting $3 million doesn’t seem like a big deal in a multibillion-dollar budget, but that same mistake over time suddenly becomes an avalanche that could have been prevented with sound fiscal policy and management standards. This is especially important for the 25 percent of Californians who live in poverty, because every tax dollar they send to the state is a dollar they could have used to directly benefit their lives.

Taxpayers deserve a government that uses their dollars efficiently and gets every penny’s worth of use out of every tax dollar. The Revenue Accountability Project is dedicated to that principle.