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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]


Brought to You by the Spending Lobby...
Proposition 56 Deserves to Go Down in Flames

[Carol Platt Liebau] 3/1/04   

There may be many important issues to be resolved on the ballot next Tuesday, but none holds more significance for California’s long-term well-being than Proposition 56. Despite the innocuous-sounding name, the “Budget Accountability Act,” its actual effect would be to eliminate the protections first offered by Proposition 13. Specifically, Proposition 56 would reduce the two-thirds legislative vote requirement to raise state taxes down to 55%.

Just a cursory examination of the proposition’s supporters is enough to prove Aristotle’s Principle of Causation: “Things act according to their Nature.” Proponents of the change include the AARP, Health Access and unions that purport to represent educators, school employees, firefighters and health care workers. The list is unintentionally revealing. All these groups share a certain penchant for drawing substantial sums of money from the state treasury. And so any legislative provision that guarantees a larger state piggy bank, whatever the cost to their fellow Californians, is good news for them.

Major funding for the “Budget Accountability” proposition has been provided by the California State Council of Service Employees Political Issues Committee and the California Teacher’s Association Issue Political Action Committee (PAC). Ah, state workers and teachers’ unions – we all know what sticklers those two groups are for “accountability”!

Cynically, in their advertising, proponents of Proposition 56 have studiously avoided discussing the major impact of their initiative – that is, of lowering the threshold for tax increases. Instead, they have sought to emphasize the provision that calls for legislators’ salaries to be withheld so long as they fail to pass a budget on time. But taking those two provisions together makes the likely result of the measure crystal clear. Legislators will never have to forgo their salaries when it becomes easier to balance the budget without making tough choices about spending cuts. Instead, budgets will be impressively timely – and filled with tax increases!

In just the last legislative session, state politicians proposed nearly $65 billion in tax increases. More than 100 bills to raise taxes (or to impose “surcharges”) were set forth –on state income, junk food, soda, diapers, child care, telephone service, beer, and insurance, just to name a few. The only limiting factor was a legislator’s imagination. No wonder USA Today ranked California as the worst-performing state in an analysis of how all 50 states manage their budgets. Is there anyone out there – who’s not supping at the government trough – who really thinks this kind of profligacy should be rewarded?

For the first time in years, with the election of Governor Schwarzenegger, there has been some hope that fiscal sanity can prevail – that, just maybe, the kind of heedless, unaccountable spending by an arrogant legislature resulting in a $38 billion dollar deficit could actually be controlled. But approving Proposition 56 would offer an escape hatch to legislative big spenders – and allow them to continue spending without a shred of accountability, or even a single Republican vote.

The people of California deserve better. They already fund state and local government generously, to the tune of $130 billion per year. As it is, California’s corporate income tax burden exceeds the national average by a full 40% -- and is significantly higher than that of the other western states with which California competes for businesses and jobs. Loading up already-struggling businesses with even more taxes, as even as they grapple with skyrocketing worker’s compensation, excessive compliance costs and deteriorating transportation infrastructure is, perhaps the best way to ensure that California won’t continue to be ranked forty-ninth in the nation (ahead of only Mississippi) for its business climate. If Proposition 56 passes, it’ll be ranked fiftieth.

State employees and the spending lobbies that surround them enjoy a luxury that is not available to any other class of workers – the ability to seek and spend ever greater sums of money without ever being held responsible for the results (or lack thereof) of past spending sprees. Perhaps they should come back with the Budget Accountability Act – when they’ve figured out how to introduce some real accountability into the budgeting process, and the spending that follows.

Until then, Proposition 56 deserves to be DOA.

CRO columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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