We all know that California’s Democratic Party is running the state into the fiscal ground, given how beholden its members are to public sector unions and how devoted they are to expanding government and raising taxes. The state needs some political competition, but a major court case reminds us why the state Republican Party is a useless vessel that’s incapable of broadening its base and changing the state’s political trajectory.
On Thursday, the California Supreme Court began oral arguments in a lawsuit brought by defenders of the state’s redevelopment agencies who are seeking to overturn recent laws that essentially shut down those agencies. Gov. Jerry Brown isn’t often right, but he was on target when he proposed shutting down these central planning agencies that primarily dispense corporate welfare to big businesses and drive small property owners off their land so that big-box stores can prosper.
Brown’s plan wasn’t perfect. It allowed the agencies to buy their way back into existence as many of them have since done. The law wasn’t passed entirely for the right reasons. Brown and legislative Democrats had typically supported redevelopment agencies, but were looking for quick ways to close the state’s gaping budget hole.
When your political enemies give you a gift, you ought to take it. Instead of taking it, California Republicans actively opposed the governor’s plan and shamelessly sided with the people who run roughshod over everything the GOP is supposed to stand for. Forget all the talk about property rights, limited government, free markets and family values.
“Almost like in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ where up is down, and down is up, this past year Democratic Legislators voted to abolish redevelopment and most Republicans fought tooth and nail to protect 425 redevelopment agencies from being abolished!” said Jon Fleischman, California GOP vice chairman and publisher of the GOP-oriented Flashreport.
Started in the 1950s to combat urban blight, redevelopment has become a tool by which localities maximize tax revenue within their boundaries. In the redevelopment process, local bureaucrats identify areas that they want to see improved. The agency declares these areas blighted based on a wide-ranging set of criteria.
Then within that area, property rights and fiscal sanity magically disappear. City officials call the shots. They can and often use eminent domain to clear away properties and hand them over to politically well-connected developers who promise to build tax-generating projects. They run up debt. In Sacramento recently, a restaurant developer received millions of dollars in subsidies to build a mermaid bar — mermaid-costumed women swim around in a giant fish tank — that caters to lobbyists. How’s that for a core government service?
The nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office found, “While redevelopment leads to economic development within project areas, there is no reliable evidence that it attracts businesses to the state or increases overall regional economic development.” LAO debunked the absurd job-creation claims made by the California Redevelopment Association.
The state Supreme Court case centers on Proposition 22, the November 2010 statewide ballot initiative that banned fiscal raids on redevelopment funds. That’s why the governor’s approach was to shut down the agencies in their entirety and then allow some of them to come back into existence. The state has the authority to stop its own Frankenstein-like creation.
Republicans should be standing with the small property owners and businesspeople — often working-class people and minorities — who want to pursue their dreams and not be bullied by these urban-renewal agencies. Instead, they have stood up for developers and bureaucrats who treat private property like pieces on a monopoly board. It’s a reminder of why the GOP is dying in California.