Lawmakers should be inspired to show more oversight
January 17, 2013
Too often, state government seems to spend your hard-earned tax dollars as if it is their money, when, in fact, it’s your money.
Throughout my public service, one of my guiding principles has been spending your tax dollars wisely. As a result, Lassen County is one of the few counties in California that does not have any debt today. Sadly, this is a principle that many in Sacramento ignore.
A recent report from the nonpartisan state auditor’s office highlights this fact and proposes several important reforms that, if enacted, will make government more efficient and effective for the taxpayers it serves.
Take the California High Speed Rail Authority, for example. As an outsider, it made no sense to me that the Legislature and the governor would rush into starting this massive project without the money in the bank.
It’s time to end the days of passing legislation in the middle of the night and budgets that are balanced only on paper.
The auditor notes that the authority’s most recent business plan raised cost estimates for the project’s first phase to as much as $117 billion, yet the state only has $12 billion in committed funding. They recommend, among other things, that a procurement audit be conducted to ensure that the authority is following the law for the contracts it is issuing. I agree. More audits will ensure that state officials spend wisely and help prevent fraud.
We also learned that Caltrans has been hamstrung in selling state-owned land for top dollar. The auditor found that current state law in some cases requires the state to sell property below market value. In Los Angeles, Caltrans sold five pieces of residential property it owned for $2.6 million collectively under their market value. They recommend changing state law to allow properties with a high value to be sold at fair market prices. At a time of painful budget cuts and declining state revenue, we must get every dollar we can when selling state land.
The auditor also recommends ways that state agencies can better protect our children from dangerous sex offenders. Last year, all Californians were outraged to learn about two cases at a Los Angeles elementary school where two teachers were arrested for multiple incidents of molesting their students in the classroom. Teacher misconduct laws made it very difficult and expensive for school districts to dismiss them. The auditor proposes establishing a method to better track classified school employees who have been dismissed for misconduct involving a student, so other districts don’t hire these individuals and put our kids at risk.
These ideas show that oversight over how state government is the mission of nonpartisan agencies like the auditor’s office. But it should also be a mission for the Legislature through the bipartisan Joint Legislative Audit Committee. Democrats and Republicans should join together routinely to scrutinize how state government is operating, to root out waste, fraud and abuse and propose reforms where needed.
Here, in the people’s House, we must lead by example and make the Legislature more accountable. It’s time to end the days of passing legislation in the middle of the night and budgets that are balanced only on paper. By requiring honest budgeting and a 72-hour period before important votes are taken, we can fully empower taxpayers to make their voices heard.
The Legislature’s guiding principle should be “letting the sun shine in.” The auditor’s recommendations are a good starting point to give Californians the more efficient and effective state government they deserve, and instead of letting another valuable report collect dust on a bureaucratic shelf, I hope lawmakers embrace them.
Assemblyman Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, represents the 1st Assembly District in the California Legislature.