and the Opportunists
Californians, beware of the state's bureaucratic scam artists...
[by Jon Coupal] 9/13/05
nation, Americans are responding generously to aid the victims
of hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, most people will give to
well-established charitable organizations that will use donations
to provide maximum benefit to disaster victims.
all pleas for aid are legitimate. The folks at web-based Scambusters.com warn that whenever there is a major natural or other disaster,
scammers begin sending out charity relief scams within just
a couple of hours. It seems the internet has become a vehicle
for high-tech looting. Already there are reports of phony websites
and deceitful e-mail spam sent by those who see to take advantage
of that basic American quality, the desire to help those in
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
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Disasters and the associated scams are no strangers to Californians.
If you can name a disaster, we've got it: Earthquakes, fires
and, of course, floods. Katrina has put into focus California's
vulnerability to the latter, especially in the central valley.
Anyone residing in this region or along our coastal rivers knows
that levees are not just for Cajuns. A levee failure here could
result in scenes similar to those broadcast from New Orleans
on the nightly news.
The scams are there, too. Fly-by-night charities after earthquakes,
shady contractors, and insurance fraud are all present in the
Golden State after disaster strikes.
But there is one kind of scam for which most Californians are
ill-prepared. Specifically, taxpayers must be prepared for the
urgent cries of some politicians who will see the threat of disasters
as a golden opportunity to raise taxes. While those who perpetually
favor higher taxes may not have the criminal intent of internet
scammers or unlicensed contractors, their cost to the public
can be much greater.
Would it cost a great deal to be fully prepared to respond to
natural and manmade disasters? Of course. But government's first
course of action should be to prioritize existing revenue. This
means fully funding public safety services, including disaster
preparedness. After that, funding can go to government's less
critical functions. Not enough money to fund the more mundane
services? Ask for more money and let the voters decide.
Recently, Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss was being interviewed
on a popular Southern California talk radio show. When one of
the hosts asked why the most important things weren't given top
priority for city spending, and higher taxes put to a vote for
less critical spending items that need attention, the councilman
responded that no one would vote for that stuff. This insults
the intelligence of the average citizen. Voters will support
those services they believe to be important, and they don't have
to be a matter of life or death.
Just look at school bonds. These bonds usually receive a vote
of at least 60 percent, sometimes nearly 80 percent, even though
most of those who are voting do not have children in school.
If voters do decide to turn down a request for more funds for
a service, perhaps that service isn't as important as officials
Taking voters and taxpayers out of the decision making process
is the wrong answer to the question. Earlier this year, the Department
of Water Resources advanced a proposal to deal with the maintenance
of 1,600 miles of levies under its jurisdiction. But part of
that proposal involved a change to the California Constitution
to take away the right of local voters to vote on proposed taxes
to pay for the maintenance. That is a non-starter for those of
us who believe that taxpayers are able to distinguish good proposals
from bad. Fortunately, that proposal died this legislative session
but, with Katrina fresh in everyone's memory, some form of levy
maintenance program will surely be proposed in the next session.
As California starts the debate over levy maintenance, there
are some tough issues to be resolved. What is the responsibility
of the state? How about local government? Will the state continue
to be subject to lawsuits from property owners whose land gets
flooded? To what extent should those who choose to live in a
flood zone expect help from government?
These are legitimate questions. But taxpayers have a question,
too. If levy maintenance is important for public safety, why
is it not a higher priority for the state's general fund?
Prioritization is not rocket science. There is no reason that
government -- that is there to meet the vital needs of the people
-- should not go through the same process that is part of life
for every family in California. Families budget for food and
mortgage or rent. Then comes clothing and transportation. Next
may be savings. Further down the list is discretionary spending
on travel and leisure activities. When times are tough, most
of us would not go hungry so that we could continue to save for
an Hawaiian vacation. Yet when government officials intentionally
withhold funding for public safety services this is essentially
what they are doing.
Let's all learn from the lesson of Katrina by increasing our
level of disaster preparedness as well as guarding against being
taken advantage of by those who are constantly seeking to increase
our already considerable tax burden. CRO
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association