Will Rogers once quipped “If you make any money, the government shoves you in the creek once a year with it in your pockets, and all that don’t get wet you can keep.” Nearly a century later, Californians are faced with a November election that will determine if we are willing to give up whatever dry money we have left in our pockets.
According to Gov. Jerry Brown in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article, “We’ve got to pay for what we want … And if we don’t want to pay, then we have to deprive ourselves of that which we would like …”
In the governor’s strategy for Proposition 30, the voter’s choice is $8.5 billion a year in increased taxes or more deep cuts to education, public safety and state prison housing. But are those really the only choices?
In 2009, Proposition 1A was put before California voters in the hope of extending a previous round of $16 billion in “temporary” tax increases. Prop 1A was soundly defeated because after the temporary tax increases were implemented, the state government did nothing to reign in out-of-control spending. With failed promises to balance one state budget after another, since 2001, there has been a steady upward march of state sales and use tax rates to feed a growing state bureaucracy. And therein lies the alternative choice to increased taxes that Gov. Brown does not wish to consider or discuss.
According to the governor’s 2012-13 budget, our state government has 200 departments. The California state agencies website lists another 369. Controller John Chiang’s website confirms that gross state wages total more than $1.49 billion per month for 221,673 active state employees.
How does the state of California spend $1.49 billion per month in salaries? The agencies listing alone is fraught with such bizarre organizations as the Uniform Custom Cost Accounting Commission, the Safe at Home Program, the Commission on State Mandates, the Council on Mentally Ill Offenders and the Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation. The list goes on and on with the California Office of Binational Border Health, I Can Afford College, Experience Unlimited, Bank on California and Cool California.
If the payrolls for these agencies seem like strange justification for higher taxes or deep budgetary cuts, consider the duplication of efforts inherent in this lumbering bureaucracy. California has a Water Quality Monitoring Council, a Water Resources Control Board and a Department of Water Resources. There is the Office of Traffic Safety, the Transportation Commission and the Department of Transportation. We have a Fair Employment and Housing Commission and a Department of Fair Employment and Housing. There is a Fish and Game Commission and a Department of Fish and Game. California sports more than 15 separate agencies related to education; it has at least 25 agencies to oversee labor and employment matters; and there are more than 50 agencies devoted to medical, dental and health issues.
Meanwhile, in Nevada County alone, the state is spending $14 million on a new 16,800-square-foot California Highway Patrol office and planning to spend another $7.8 million to demolish the current CHP and DMV buildings to make way for a new 7,600-square-foot DMV office. Our Nevada County courthouse is one of 13 courthouses still slated for part of $1.1 billion in new construction or renovation. These would all be worthwhile projects, if the state were not bleeding billions in deficits.
Gov. Brown further emphasized the need for more tax money or deep budget cuts by pushing for government approval of the $23.7 billion plan to construct two massive underground tunnels to divert 9,000 cubic feet of water per second from Northern California to the south. He also managed to ignore the state’s financial disaster by ramming through approval of the “train to nowhere,” the completion of which is projected to cost taxpayers at least another $68 billion.
Considering this endless litany of “spend, spend, spend,” the alternative to $8.5 billion a year in increased taxes or more unnecessary deep cuts must be crystal clear to any rational, thinking person. California needs to streamline, reorganize and reduce the number of divisions, commissions, departments, boards, agencies, committees, offices, councils, programs, centers, bureaus, units and conservancies that make up the behemoth state government.
The solution to California’s economic morass is not more “temporary” taxes that will have to be renewed over and over down the road. The solution is to cut the state’s more than $1.4 billion monthly payroll by downsizing a lumbering, ineffective and increasingly unproductive state bureaucracy.
As Mark Twain put it: “The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.”
On Nov. 6, California voters will determine how much more skin they are willing to give the tax man.
I am a retired high school teacher and assistant principal with 32 years of service in Southern California. Five years ago, my wife and I escaped the big-city crush and moved to Alta Sierra in beautiful Grass Valley. Our only regret is that we did not make the move sooner.
Robert Bee lives in Grass Valley.
The solution to California’s economic morass is not more “temporary” taxes that will have to be renewed over and over down the road..