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Will They Ever Learn, Part II
by Ray Haynes
[politician] 6/26/06
 

The California Legislature could take a lesson from George Santayana, a notable philosopher, who coined the phrase, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

The best way to learn about how government works is to watch the budget process. In a state that distributes over $200 billion ($101 billion in general fund, $32 billion in special funds, and another $60 to $100 billion in a variety of other government programs), the stakes for those who can get a piece of that pie become very high. Most of what occurs in that process occurs behind the scenes in very high stakes negotiations, with very few participants. Most members of the Legislature are not always certain about what occurs, and are often left with just hours to consider how to spend this enormous amount of money. I spent 10 years of my time in the Legislature on the budget committee, and I can tell you, even I am unsure about everything the state spends its money on. I can say that when I first joined the Legislature, our total general fund spending was $42 billion. If all of the programs the state spends money on were added together then, the total spending was about $110 billion. Today, that number is $101 billion general fund, and over $230 billion total, a huge increase in just 14 short years.

Contributor

Ray Haynes

Mr. Haynes is an Assembly member representing Riverside and Temecula. He serves on the Appropriations and Budget Committees. [go to Assembly Member Haynes website at California Assembly][go to Haynes index]

Which is why I have voted against just about every budget. The one budget I voted for was the smallest increase in the history of the state, a proposed $100 million increase, in the 2004-05 budget. That projection turned out to be wrong. The state ended spending about $2 billion more than the projection, but, all in all, it was a relatively restrained budget. Not so, today.

This week, the Legislature will vote on the 2006-07 budget. It will be the last budget on which I have the opportunity to vote, and, if I have any regrets about my time here in Sacramento, it has been my relative inability to restrain the expansion of government that has occurred while I was here.

In fact, all of the incentives in government weigh in favor of centralizing government power, and making that central government bigger. In most budget discussions at the state level, Democrats advocate for more spending on education and welfare, and most Republicans advocate for more spending on law enforcement and road construction. The compromise is usually to spend more money on both. The two-thirds vote requirement to pass a budget usually requires the Democrats to pay at least lip service to Republican priorities in the budget, but it has never worked to restrain the growth of government.

That is because all politicians benefit from the centralization and growth of government. By the granting and withholding of the benefits of government, or using the power of government to intrude on a person’s life or business, politicians make themselves more important to people. Most people avoid contact with the government, just ask anyone how happy there are to see a tax collector or a traffic cop. If government officials didn’t stick their nose into everyone else’s business, people would avoid them like the plague. Politicians and bureaucrats maintain their power by intruding on people’s lives and taking their money. That is true no matter who is in charge.

This year’s budget epitomizes the problem. The state is spending every dime it takes in, and then some. To the Governor’s credit, he is trying to pay down some of the debt he inherited from Gray Davis, but the Democrats in the Legislature don’t want to do that. In fact, they want to spend more money on more government programs. That is exactly how we got into trouble under Gray Davis, ending up with horrific deficits. It is only a matter of time before it happens again. CRO

Mr. Haynes is a California Assemblyman repesenting Riverside and Temecula and frequent contributor to CaliforniaRepublic.org.

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