CA GOP Saves Eminent Domain!
March 18, 2011
MARCH 18, 2011
By STEVEN GREENHUT
California Republicans love to talk about limiting government, fighting bureaucracy and keeping taxes low, but on Thursday they proved that this is nothing more than a rhetorical device. Given the opportunity to rein in the size and power of government in a tangible way, Assembly Republicans – with one sole exception – punted. They rallied to save some of the most abusive and wastrel government agencies around.
As the California GOP begins its convention in Sacramento today, party members ought to at least understand where its Assembly members stand – on the side of big government, higher taxes and uncontrolled debt and against property rights, individualism and freedom. As the party blathers about luring minority and working-class voters, let it be clear that the GOP sided with the developers and government planners who want to drive minorities and working-class people off of their property. The Democrats are right: The GOP is the party of big business and privilege.
As part of the governor’s budget package, the Assembly voted on SB77, which would have ended the state’s redevelopment agencies. But only longtime redevelopment foe, Chris Norby of Fullerton, sided with taxpayers and property owners. The rest of the Assembly Republicans voted “no” or didn’t vote at all. Had even one of the Republicans joined Norby, the bill would have passed with a two-thirds majority. There may still be time, but the GOP is too busy celebrating that it stopped Brown on this one issue. They put partisanship above their own ideology. They stopped Brown in one of the few areas where Brown was right.
Redevelopment was started in 1945 as a means to upgrade decrepit urban areas, but in the ensuing years the state’s now-nearly 400 active redevelopment agencies have become horrific abusers of eminent domain. They routinely take private property from homeowners and small business owners and give it to developers on the cheap. Redevelopment has become a “tool” by which government agencies grab more tax revenues. They subsidize big-box stores and auto malls — it’s about luring sales taxes, not about upgrading blighted areas. Government officials don’t care whose rights they erode in the process of gaining more money for government.
Gov. Jerry Brown has targeted the agencies because they divert 12 percent of the state’s property taxes from traditional public services (schools, police, parks and firefighting) to corporate welfare. He figures the state can save about $1.7 billion annually as he seeks to close a gaping $26.6 billion budget hole. This should have been a no-brainer with any Republican with a brain. They proved themselves to be the party of numbskulls.
Redevelopment is about everything Republicans claim to loath: bureaucracy, debt, abuses of property rights, big government, excessive land-use rules, subsidized housing and fiscal irresponsibility. In California cities, redevelopment bureaucrats rule the roost and they leave a path of destruction wherever they go. They bully people and impose enormous burdens on taxpayers. The diversion of tax dollars to welfare queens mandates higher taxes, but the GOP sided with the redevelopment industry. They sided with agencies that run up hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed indebtedness. They sided with government-directed stimulus programs, albeit local ones rather than federal ones.
Some, like Martin Garrick and Nathan Fletcher, sided with redevelopment because of their eagerness to get a taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal in San Diego. Others, such as Bob Huff, have always been closely allied with the City of Industry and other powerful redevelopment players. Most Republicans offered lame excuses. For instance, they argued that if redevelopment agencies were shut down, something new and equally bad would take its place. That’s an absurd argument. They might as well oppose tax cuts by arguing that the government will find other ways to raise the revenue.
The truth is California Republicans do not believe in limited government. They do not stand up for property owners. They are the party of corporate welfare. They oppose higher taxes, but that’s the only guiding principle of the party these days. And even that is suspect. Many Assembly Republicans, such as the pro-union members of the “no more cuts” caucus (Jim Silva, Brian Nestande and Paul Cook), vote in a way that virtually mandates higher taxes at some point. Then they get on their high horse and sign those bogus tax-fighting pledges. And you wonder why the GOP is fading away in this state?
If the GOP could not provide more than one vote to end redevelopment, then we know that their claims about pension reform and spending caps are bogus too. They will never provide the margin of victory on these matters, either. When push comes to shove, they will be bought off again and will offer similar excuses for why they really support reform but just couldn’t vote for it this time. Yet Republicans wonder why they have been relegated to irrelevancy, the laughingstocks of the California political world. Sure, they usually are better than Democrats, but they offer no cohesive and believable alternative to the Party of Unions.
Certainly, Republicans continue to hold firm against the governor’s proposed tax-extension vote, but I’m guessing we’ll get that vote eventually. For instance, the state’s unprincipled business community, led by the Democrat-friendly California Chamber of Commerce, is promising to support those Republicans who go soft on taxes. The Chamber just wants business-as-usual, and is perfectly happy if legislators tax the rest of us more – as long as its members’ special privileges are protected. That’s no way to build a broader movement.
The Chamber loves redevelopment also and redevelopment is a core issue. Anyone who supports it cannot claim to be a conservative, not if the term conservative has any meaning. It is the epitome of bad public policy, in that it gives governmental powers to the most powerful and politically well-connected players at the expense of the average citizen.
Ironically, the Democrats claimed to love redevelopment, but voted to end the agencies as a way to save money. Republicans often criticized the redevelopment process, but then rallied the troops to save it. Some Assembly Republicans even embraced a fiscally outrageous plan floated by the City of Industry to extend the life of redevelopment agencies and float more debt. Industry lobbyists were reportedly seen basking in their victory around the Capitol.
So Assembly Republicans are clear: They love Obama-style stimulus programs and corporate welfare. They trust planners and bureaucrats rather than the free market. They support higher taxes and more debt. And they believe that the government should be free to use eminent domain to take property from private owners and give that property to powerful private interests.
Let’s at least dispense with all the rhetoric. The party that saved eminent domain is no friend of the California taxpayer.