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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website]

Open Mike, Insert Foot
Lawmakers' Candid Remarks Frighten Taxpayers
[Jon Coupal] 8/6/03

Back in the heyday of radio, children could gather around the radio on Sunday afternoons while an affable host read them the funnies from the newspaper.

There is a famous story about one star-crossed comics reader who, when the program ended, leaned back in his chair, and said to no one in particular, "There, that ought to hold the little bastards."

Unfortunately, the engineer was late in cutting to the station break, and the microphone was still open. This gaff may have generated interesting dinnertime conversation in thousands of homes, but other than revealing an unpleasant "other side" of the broadcaster, it is doubtful that the event caused much harm.

The latest open mike blunder has much more dire implications for millions of California taxpayers.

In the State Capitol building there are strategically placed microphones that allow staff and reporters to monitor committee hearings on "squawk boxes" in their offices. These same rooms are often used by members of the Legislature to caucus and confer.

A little over a week ago, eleven of the most radical members of the Assembly, known as the "progressive caucus," met to discuss the budget stalemate.

In private conversation these lawmakers strategized on how a delay in passing the budget could help a public employee union sponsored initiative, likely to appear on the ballot next year, that would lower the two-thirds vote to pass both the budget and tax increases.

Assemblyman Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) stated his desire to "precipitate a crisis," that might persuade voters to lower the two-thirds vote threshold needed to pass a spending plan. Ultra-liberal Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) suggested that the Democrats should force a crisis sooner rather than later: "It seems to me if there's going to be a crisis, the crisis should be this year. What you do is you show people that you can't get to this without a 55 percent vote."

Goldberg and Nunez were referring to a public employee union-backed initiative measure being called "The Budget Accountability Act." The title was selected because polls show that "government accountability" is extremely popular with voters.

However, the title is fraud. The measure should be called the "Blank Check Initiative" because it would destroy the 75-year-old two-thirds vote to approve a budget and Proposition 13's requirement of a two-thirds vote to approve new state taxes. Passage would remove what little remains of fiscal discipline in California. The minority party would have no say on state spending, and taxpayers would be left defenseless against new tax proposals.

Also discussed by the "progressives" was how polls show that a budget delay could help Gov. Davis fight off the recall.

How do we and scores throughout the Capitol know the budget strategy of the most liberal Democrats in the Legislature? That's right, the microphone in the caucus room was on.

When finally informed that this private session was becoming very public, Assemblywoman Goldberg could be heard to say, "Oh [expletive deleted], oh [expletive deleted]!" before the "squawk boxes" went silent.

In her final candid remarks, Goldberg could well have been anticipating the thoughts of most taxpayers after an open mike revealed the "other side" of a number of influential lawmakers. Californians now know that the Democrats, who had attempted to place the blame for the budget delay squarely on the shoulders of Republicans who refused to raise taxes, were themselves being grossly irresponsible by intentionally prolonging the crisis for narrow partisan political gain.

The budget delay caused real pain for Californians (a budget was finally passed late Tuesday night), but until this incident, many voters believed that lawmakers, despite their differences, were acting in good faith on the people's behalf. Now we have seen behind the masks of eleven prominent politicians and the view is scary. Their open mike program is not suitable for children.



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