The spending machine that is Sacramento is back in high gear. This week, the Legislature passed a budget that spends almost $15 billion more than in 2013-14 and it sets a record of $156 billion in total spending, or more than $200 billion if federal funds (more of your tax dollars) are included. With this gusher of spending, one would expect full transparency, public hearings and legislative debate before passage.
Sadly, as with much of the progressive-liberal rule in Sacramento, one would be disappointed.
This budget is a backroom deal, cut between the governor, the California Teachers Association and a small cadre of legislators. Left out of that cabal are you, me and average Californians burdened by high unemployment, rising poverty, dysfunctional schools and the highest tax rate in the nation.
Many of its provisions and those of trailer bills were added at literally the last minute, leading Democrat State Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, to exclaim, “This policy makes no sense. Why the rush to enact it right now?” He was referring to a last-minute cap on reserve amounts that local school districts are allowed to hold.
Why the cap? Because, the California Teachers Association demanded it in an out-of-sight deal, in return for not opposing a rainy-day fund in the budget. The cap puts basic aid school districts in a bind, since they rely on notoriously variable property tax revenue for their funding. A reserve account allows them to smooth out those fluctuations and hold funds for future capital projects.
Why would the union use its muscle to reduce these funds? Because then there is more for them to grab in salary negotiations with local districts. That’s how political power works.
Then there is our governor’s pet, the high-speed rail project now being built to run 60 miles from Merced to Bakersfield. Two people, Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, negotiated a deal that spends $250 million of cap-and-trade (Assembly Bill 32) funds on the crazy train this year, and 25 percent of those funds in the future.
AB 32 mandates reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels in just six years. Funds from cap-and-trade are for projects that will help reach that goal. Yet, the initial operating section for high-speed rail is not, under the most optimistic estimates, to begin running until after 2020. So, using AB 32 funds to pay for the crazy train won’t get us closer to the mandates of the law.
Moreover, the crazy train will not reduce carbon emissions, let alone be carbon-neutral. The High-Speed Rail Authority claims that construction will be carbon-neutral. However, it conveniently forgets to consider the carbon emissions required to produce construction products like cement. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office reported earlier this year that the initial operating segment might therefore, “result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”
In other words, this budget deal uses funds designed to reduce carbon emissions to support an unsustainable project that will actually increase them.
The state’s increase in one-time revenue (voter-approved temporary higher tax rates) has led to a series of new entitlements that will far outlast the temporary revenue increases. Included in those new programs is free day care for an initial 11,500 children. So now, parents working multiple jobs to pay for their own children’s day care will have to shell out to pay for the children of those who couldn’t afford to have them in the first place.
How will the budget help those low-income families rise out of poverty? Not by creating a better climate for businesses to grow, expand and provide good jobs with benefits. Instead, the Legislature approved a 5 percent increase in welfare payments. That, and it allowed some felons to receive food stamps and welfare payments. So, if you work hard and follow the rules, your reward will be to pay for those who don’t.
Backroom deals, union giveaways, skirting the law and unsustainable entitlements — sounds about right for progressive-liberal Democrats. No wonder Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, said, “I was encouraged by the process” and that Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, crowed, “It’s a budget I’m proud of.”
Maybe it’s time we elect officials who will be open and transparent, rather than those making backroom deals and who then try to gold-plate the resulting pile of poo.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.