Must Make Every Penny Count
The ongoing, voter-approved deficit...
[by Jon Coupal and Tom Schatz] 11/23/05
Proposition 76, state spending limits, on the November special
election ballot, California voters ignored the elephant in
the room. The giant pachyderm is the ongoing structural budget
the state's economy has improved under the guidance of Gov.
Schwarzenegger, it has not been enough to permanently bail
the state out of the hole created by the reckless spending
of his predecessor, the recalled Gray Davis, who colluded with
the Legislature to run up massive deficits that at one time
approached $40 billion.
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]
While voters did not approve Proposition 76, which would have
imposed a modest limit on the growth of state outlays, it would
be a mistake to interpret this as an endorsement of continued
irresponsible spending. A more realistic conclusion would be
that voters were asked to make judgments on a number of controversial
and complex, or not clearly defined, issues, and they expressed
their displeasure by saying no to all eight measures that appeared
on the ballot.
However, if Californians are to avoid a significant tax increase
to make ends meet, they must be more vocal than ever in insisting
that state and local governments make better use of the funds
already provided. This means that there can be zero tolerance
of frivolous or wasteful spending.
To help public officials focus on savings and efficiency, Citizens
Against Government Waste and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
prepare the annual California Piglet Book that lists scores of
spending and budget items that could be eliminated or reduced
while doing no harm to the public good.
This year's just-released publication shows that millions of
dollars in the state budget are lost to waste and fraud.
From payroll and pension abuse to tens of millions of dollars
for a pretend railroad, the California Piglet Book exposes areas
in the state budget where wasteful spending can be eliminated.
A prime example of California's long line of information technology
boondoggles is the Franchise Tax Board's entry into the tax preparation
business. As a pilot program, ReadyReturn competes with the private
sector and prepared returns for 11,500 taxpayers in the 2004
tax filing season. In addition to the conflict of interest in
having the tax collector also serve as the tax preparer, the
program presents a myriad of accountability problems. FTB has
created a new government program, at significant taxpayer expense,
even though FTB's website links visitors to at least nine private-sector
tax preparation companies offering their services to tax filers
for free. ReadyReturn should be returned to sender with a cancellation
While we hope that common sense will descend upon our state
policy leaders so that programs like ReadyReturn, and hundreds
of others that waste the public's money, will be eliminated or
reduced, we suffer no delusions about the scope of the task.
After all, it is hard to expect economy and efficiency from the
California Legislature while it continues to employ elevator
operators to operate the self-service elevators in the Capitol
We have heard
from politicians who respond that saving a few million dollars
unnecessary spending is hardly worth it because
the savings amount to "peanuts."
Well, state officials and taxpayers had better start looking
for boxcar loads of peanuts because the elephant is still in
the room and he is getting hungry. CRO
Tom Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste,
a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating
waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government. Jon Coupal
is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which
is devoted to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association