Libertarian ideology blinds Republicans on Prop. 31
October 1, 2012
By Wayne Lusvardi
When I recently spoke before an Orange County crowd of Republicans at a ballot forum as the “No on Proposition 31” speaker, I was not surprised to find opposition. One person offered the observation that it was all those “country club Republicans” that stood to benefit from the corporate welfare of Prop. 31 who were in favor of it. To the contrary, it is libertarian ideology that has blinded Republicans to what Prop. 31 really is all about.
Orange County has one of the most libertarian cultures in the United States. Until recently, ts newspaper, the Orange County Register, was owned by libertarian R.C. Hoiles and his descendants. Its editorial page still has a libertarianphilosophy.
Orange County has had one of the few elected libertarian judges in the United States, Judge Jim Gray, who now is running for vice president as a Libertarian Party candidate. Orange County has a government water district that runs itself as a business and invests in real estate and stocks to reduce water rates. Orange County has built its own tollways, instead of depending on Caltrans. But more importantly, the entrepreneurial business culture in Orange County has always had a libertarian tilt to it. Which brings us back to why Orange County libertarians would support Prop. 31.
Prop. 31 is a Confidence Game
Perhaps the answer can be found in Tom Sowell’s column, “The Confidence Man,” from last week:
“The role of a confidence man is not to convince skeptics, but to help the gullible believe what they want to believe. Most of what Barack Obama says sounds very persuasive if you don’t know the facts — and often sounds like sheer nonsense if you do. But he is not trying to convince skeptics, nor worried about looking ridiculous to informed people who won’t vote for him anyway.”
What Prop. 31 would do is give libertarian-minded Republicans what they want to hear. It promises:
* A two-year state budget cycle;
* New state laws of $25 million or more must identify the source of their funding;
* The can call a fiscal emergency and cut line items out of the budget;
* Performance budgeting would be required in all state agencies;
* State programs and projects could be deregulated if local governments join in forming regional “Strategic Action Plan” committees.
It’s what libertarian Republicans want to hear. But it’s all phony. None of the above provisions of Proposition 31 needs to get voter approval or a constitutional amendment to be implemented right now.
A two-year budget cycle can be done without voter approval. And Prop. 31 does shift the start of the state government’s fiscal year to October 1 from July 1 to give more time for budget negotiations and review.
Gaming the system
The provision to identify sources of funding before passing a bill of $25 million or greater can easily be gamed by an irresponsible Legislature. The Legislature can get around this provision by using some of the same budget gimmicks they use now, such as: creating programs that cost $24.9 million; fudging the numbers on spending cuts; using projected revenues from capital gains taxes that never materialize to fund new programs; and padding expenditure bills so the governor can use his line item veto to give the appearance he cut the bill in half.
The California Constitution already grants the governor a line item veto and authority to declare a fiscal emergency.
As someone who once zero-base budgeted a county agency in Los Angeles, I can say without a doubt that performance budgeting will only end up creating another costly layer of bureaucracy that will offset any cost savings.
Forming new unelected regional committees is not needed. The State Government Code already provides for the creation of Joint Powers Authorities to do regional projects and programs.
Now what social psychologists call “cognitive dissonance” is kicking in to all those libertarian readers. Cognitive dissonance is a concept that one’s beliefs get stronger, not weaker, when presented with contradictory evidence.
Regional Government is Democratic Party “Dream Come True”
Behind Prop. 31 is the California Forward political reform organization. One of the co-chairpersons to Cal Forward is Robert Hertzberg, former speaker of the Assembly. In 2002, Hertzberg created the Commission on Regionalism. The Commission issued a report, the “New California Dream: Regional Solutions for 21st Century Challenges.”
The report is full of buzzwords meant to mask its purpose of calling for coerced tax sharing between Big Blue cities and Little Red suburbs. Prop. 31 is the product of Hertzberg’s “California Dream” of usurping local governments with new unelected regional governments. The Strategic Action Plan committees created by Proposition 31 would be the culmination of this socialist dream.
For those who still aren’t persuaded, there is a real world model of Prop. 31 already operating in California. It is Senate Bill X2-1 by Don Perata, D-Oakland, the Water Quality, Flood Control, Water Storage, and Wildlife Preservation Act of 2008.
SB X2-1 was originally enacted as SB 1672 in 2002, the same year that Robert Hertzberg was Assembly Speaker and issued his regionalism study.
SB X2-1 has a provision to include “Regional Water Management Groups,” which are similar to Prop. 31’s “Strategic Action Committees.” SB X2-1 mandates that such groups be composed of the “disadvantaged, environmental and social justice organizations” and must be cut in on at least 10 percent of the action in order for a regional project to get water bond funding. These groups are funded in 48 accepted regions under the “Integrated Regional Water Management” program of the Financial Assistance Branch of the California Department of Water Resources.
Since 2002, “Regional Water Management Groups” have received $1.8 billion in water bond funds to serve “disadvantaged communities” that do not have safe drinking water, as well as other projects. Illegal trailer parks that have violated local land use laws can get water piped to their door steps on demand at the state taxpayer’s expense. This money has gone for vague planning and water management activities of these groups, not for hard water infrastructure.
Moreover, since “disadvantaged” groups are likely those low-income households that do not pay income or property taxes in California, they are not even stakeholders. Some are apparently scofflaws as to local zoning and subdivision laws. SB X2-1 is a wealth transfer program masquerading as a local citizen participation water management program. For those who want to see how Prop. 31 would work, look no further than SB X2-1.
The Political Costs of Prop. 31
Under Prop. 31, regional public transit projects would likely have to pay a legal bribe to a Strategic Action Plan committee to get project funding. As a condition, they may also be required, for example, to accept an affordable housing project in their community to get funded.
Prop. 31 creates no new taxes. Neither would SAP committees be mini-legislatures allowed to make their own laws. They would still have to appeal to the union-controlled Legislature to get laws relaxed. But the Legislature is likely to mandate that disadvantaged persons and union representatives be put on the regional SAP committees.
Culture and ideology, not only power politics and legislation, are still a powerful force in California. It can be expressed as a socialist dream of regionalism. Or in a Republican notion that a last bastion of libertarian-oriented government can be maintained in a political environment where Republicans have been reduced to irrelevancy by redistricting and the elimination of their blocking power in the Legislature.
Republicans seem to not have caught on that Prop. 31 is not about good government reforms. It is about co-opting Republican local government. Co-optation under Prop. 31 means revenue sharing by coercion (“join us or we will punish you”). Apparently, many Republicans are willing to say, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Prop. 31 is targeted at neutralizing libertarian-oriented government, with Orange County as the bull’s eye.
And that is why the Democratic Legislature and governor are holding siege over four communities in Riverside County and withholding revenue sharing of vehicle license fees. Once dissolved, these cities will be ripe to be manage by regional government committees under Prop. 31.
Prop. 31 is a tax-sharing scheme for deficit-plagued big cities and school districts to be bailed out by the suburbs. It would undermine representative government and create another costly layer of unaccountable government. The proverb “be wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove” would seem to apply to those considering how to vote on Prop. 31.