On more than just local government

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wastes of government funds

Within three hours of each other Monday afternoon, two glaring examples were evident everyone to see of how managing the cost of government activities is never the highest priority among public officials. There was the end of the Michael Jackson trial followed by the announcement by Governor Schwarzenegger of a November special election so that some decisions that will do nothing to reduce the state’s budget deficit, and that could easily have waited until next June’s scheduled primary, can be decided at a cost of $80 million.

I have no idea whether Michael Jackson was guilty or not. It is clear that he is wacko, but perhaps he can’t be proven to be THAT kind of wacko. However, the fact that not a single guilty verdict was gained, even on the least of the counts regarding offering liquor to a minor, indicates how much of a waste of the public money was involved in mounting this case. The District Attorney, it seems, has fallen into the Gil Garcetti trap of trying to nail a celebrity with enough money to buy “justice.” Hopefully, Mr. Sneddon will suffer the same response from the voters of his county as Mr. Garcetti and be tossed from office.

As for the special election, the Governor feels that he must deal with these “serious” issues that will be offered to the voters. This despite the fact that one of the key items to be voted on, redistricting, cannot be accomplished in the time frame set by the initiative and that others, such as nurse staffing, teacher sanctions and firefighter benefit reductions are consistently opposed by a majority of California voters. Nevertheless, the Governor has decided that $80 million needs to be spent on an election that could have been held for nothing just 8 months later.

For both these public officials, the public’s money seems to be viewed as their own personal expense account when it enhances their self-aggrandizement. For Mr. Sneddon, a victory would have meant statewide publicity that could have lead to thoughts of higher office. For the Governor, this special election is a large scale public opinion poll that could provide the impetus he needs to recover the support he has lost since the Recall election. We don’t need to spend our scarce resources this way.

June is the month to remind you of the dire fiscal condition of our local governments, cities, counties, school districts and special districts. We need all the resources we can get to be working for us, not for the politicians who have control of the purse strings. By the end of this month, you will hear much about the cutting of services these local governments have been forced to undertake. Every million dollars spent in these crackpot endeavors is a million less for something that we need.

The only way to stop them is to, loudly and convincingly, repudiate them. A sound beating will, hopefully, be an object lesson to any spending-crazed politicians who follow. Then, maybe, we can get down to the real work of government…providing services to the people who entrust them with their money.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Whose budget is it anyway?

We have been inundated in recent weeks with a commercial paid for from the over $70 million in campaign contributions raised by Gov. Schwarzenegger castigating the California Legislature for spending $1.10 for every $1.00 raised. He conveniently doesn’t mention that the signature on that document is his.

As we enter the budget season in Sacramento, the bs factor rises to epic proportions. Everyone tries to blame everyone else for a situation that has been a problem not just for the last few years, but for the last few decades. Specifically, since 1978, the initiative process has little by little eroded the power of both the Governor and the Legislature to control spending. That’s because every special interest has carved out its own gravy train of funding and some, such as then Citizen Schwarzenegger’s after school program initiative, which passed more than four years ago, will kick in as the budget situation improves.

It is estimated that the legislature has management control of only about 20% of the budget. The remainder is allocated based on formulas that, very often, do not relate at all with the changing financial condition the State find itself in. So, for the Governor to blame the Legislature in this way indicates that he is either lying or doesn’t really understand the history of State government. Either scenario is highly disturbing.

The Governor has also in recent months decided to take on what he calls “special interests.” Included in these groups are nurses and firefighters, two groups that, generally, get high marks for the people they serve. The concerns he has with these groups are different, but they are both aimed at the fact that they have effectively organized as labor groups. The nurses want to make sure that their workloads don’t get in the way of service to the people who need them and the firefighters are concerned that proposals to cut their health and welfare arrangements will leave any widowed spouses without pension benefits.

I don’t understand what the Governor thinks he is going to get out of these fights. The public, as seen in poll after poll, clearly side with the nurses and firefighters. Yet, he plods on toward a special election that will cost California taxpayers at least $70-80 million.

Schwarzenegger has spent and continues to spend, the political capital he gained from the Recall election like a drunken sailor. Driving back from Northern California last week, I saw a billboard with two pictures on it. On the left was a nurse, with the caption “She heals.” On the right was Schwarzenegger, with the caption “He wheels and deals.” Very succinct and very correct.

The chances he had to make reform happen are gone. They have been lost in the creation of an “uberpolitician,” who raises money beyond anything Gray Davis ever did, bounces from issue to issue with no coherence, lands on policy solutions that make no sense, for which he fights until they die due to lack of interest.

Oh, well. The 2006 election is at hand. Maybe that will solve it.