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Government Must Make Every Penny Count
The ongoing, voter-approved deficit...

[by Jon Coupal and Tom Schatz] 11/23/05

By rejecting 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 deficit.

Although 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.

Jon Coupal

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]

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 notice.

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 building.

We have heard from politicians who respond that saving a few million dollars of 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 taxpayers' rights.

copyright 2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association



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