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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] [go to Coupal index]

In for a Penny, In for a Pound
Officials' wasteful spending and corruption add to taxpayers' woes.
[Jon Coupal] 7/14/04

When Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn billed taxpayers $100 for a dress she wore to a Cinco de Mayo celebration, Channel 11 reporters asked for an on-camera interview to discuss it. She refused, saying it was "silly."

Most taxpayers would agree. It is silly for hard working residents of the city to have to pay for a council member's wardrobe. They also might consider it a crime, even if it may be legal.

Hahn should know better. Politics is the family business. Her brother is mayor and her father and uncle were both Los Angeles area elected officials.

Still, some might argue, "it's only" $100. But where do we draw the line? If $100 is silly, at what point do we get serious? Is a thousand dollars laughable? $100,000? $1,000,000?

Los Angeles just approved a $5.3 billion budget for next year that includes 3% raises for city employees and 180 increases in fees and permit costs for residents. Ongoing problems, like massive firefighter overtime, which eats up nearly a quarter of the department's budget, remain unresolved. As Los Angeles residents dig a little deeper to pay for raises and overtime, they will also be paying for Hahn's dress.

In Mission Viejo, last year, residents were unhappy after it was learned that a Councilmember may have padded a legitimate luncheon bill by including a $10 entrée for her husband. While the "it's only" argument was raised, local taxpayers correctly understood the implications. The "free lunch" provided a glaring example of an elected official failing to respect that she was spending other people's money.

Recently, Former Compton Mayor Omar Bradley was sentenced to three years in state prison on felony corruption charges for spending nearly $12,000 of city money on himself over a two year period. Bradley's defense tried to minimize the amount taken and rationalize the offense. Bradley probably rationalized his actions, too. Each time he dipped into the city's coffers he may have said to himself, "it's only" a few dollars.

When he was convicted, though, he had a different view, one with which his constituents would agree. "I just got lost," said Bradley. "Lost in trying to be somebody."

Even if Bradley had not spent the money on himself, but just misspent it as part of his official duties, it would have been just as offensive. The real crime is that, even without breaking the law, so many politicians fail to put a high value on tax dollars that are produced by the sweat of their constituents.

In the early 1990s, when the state was going through another budget crisis, Pete Wilson was asked why he was continuing to fund agencies like the California Arts Council, which at the time cost every resident of the state about fifty cents to pay its $16 million annual cost. His response, reportedly, was that it was "peanuts." Peanuts! The problem that so many public officials fail to understand is that there are boxcar loads of these peanuts and they add up to real money by anyone's definition.

Last year the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, working in conjunction with Citizens Against Government Waste, was able to highlight billions in government waste and misspending in the "2003 California Piglet Book"

Because public officials continue to spend freely and unwisely, a "2004 California Piglet Book" is being prepared for summer release.

When it comes to wasteful spending, taxpayers will continue to pursue a zero tolerance policy.CRO

copyright 2004 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association


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