California Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators failed in their bid to put billions of dollars in tax extensions on the ballot, not only because they couldn’t persuade a few Republicans to go along, but also because Democrats’ union allies feared that voters would reject the taxes.
In the aftermath, Brown and the Democrats passed a no-new-taxes budget while warning about shredding vital public services.
It’s a valid debate to have, but voters’ instinctive reluctance to pay more taxes is bolstered by a steady stream of incidents implying that the taxes they already pay are often wasted.
Take, for example, what occurred as California State University system trustees raised student fees due to budget cuts. Simultaneously, they approved a $400,000 salary for the new president of San Diego State University — $100,000 higher than his predecessor.
Brown publicly castigated the trustees. “At a time when the state is closing its courts, laying off public school teachers and shutting senior centers, it is not right to be raising the salaries of leaders who — of necessity — must demand sacrifice from everyone else,” Brown said.
But Brown didn’t utter a peep when the board that oversees a $3 billion stem cell research bond issue decided to pay its new Brown-appointed chairman — ironically — $400,000.
So much for demanding sacrifice.
That bond issue is to be repaid from the same state general fund that includes college money, as is a $9.95 billion bond issue that the High-Speed Rail Authority is spending on a north-south bullet train.
About $3 million went to Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide for a lavish “outreach” campaign to boost the troubled project’s popularity.
Ogilvy did everything from ghostwriting letters to the editor to organizing pro-bullet train demonstrations. But as the project’s popularity continued to decline, Ogilvy quit, telling officials that it was “unable to develop a solid working relationship with your agency, and that impeded the kind of top-notch work we are accustomed to providing our clients.”
Ogilvy, however, is keeping the money.
Just this week, Controller John Chiang castigated the state prison system for “grossly inadequate” payroll and expense accounting practices.
We can’t solve our basic fiscal problems by just rooting out waste. But when officials squander our money, they undercut their own efforts to persuade voters to give them even more to spend.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.