Prop. 31 would redistribute local tax dollars

Sept. 20, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

On Wednesday at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, I participated in a debate sponsored by the Orange County Lincoln Club on Proposition 31 on the Nov. 6 ballot. I took the “No” side.

Prop. 31 is called “The Government Performance and Accountability Act.”  It would offer a number of government efficiency reforms in exchange for allowing the creation of local miniature regional governments, called Strategic Action Plans, run by unelected committees. SAPs purportedly would allow cities to relax environmental and labor laws to undertake regional public projects and programs.

My debate opponent was Todd Priest, a well respected limited-government Republican who works for Curt Pringle Associates, a public relations firm specializing in government affairs and land use.  Pringle is the former mayor of Anaheim and former chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority.  He also was a board member of the Orange County Transportation Commission.

Trying to convince limited-government Republicans that they should oppose a ballot initiative that promised to grant regulatory relief for public transit and social service projects was a challenging task.  But my past experience as an administrator of Housing and Urban Development revenue sharing programs for Los Angeles County gave me a perspective on the “silent” coercive aspects of Prop. 31.

Prop. 31 is Co-Optation, Not Deregulation

I addressed what I believe is political naiveté that Republican cities would be able to exempt themselves from labor and environmental laws and be able to have their fair share of state gasoline taxes, property taxes and vehicle license fees without any strings attached. After all, I was asked, why couldn’t two prosperous Republican suburbs form a SAP and then exempt themselves from the regulations they didn’t like?  Forming a SAP supposedly was completely voluntary. But that is not how revenue sharing works.

I explained that a Democratic state Legislature would not allow a SAP to be a mini-legislature that could make its own rules. Nor would it allow a SAP to grant itself a share of local revenue that normally flows through the state Legislature without any strings attached. What Republicans apparently believe is that they would be granted “waivers” around regulations, just as President Obama granted waivers to unions from Obamacare.

Mandates would be required as a condition of receiving any funds. Remember the issue of “mandates” that arose during the U.S. Supreme Court case decision regarding Obamacare?  It is likely the Legislature would only grant waivers formed in Democratic cities or where unions controlled the SAP committees.

SAPs would be like invading Republican territories and putting a Democratic fox in every Republican henhouse. Prop. 31 would be co-optation, not deregulation. Co-optation is assimilation to “take, or win over into a larger or established group such as a fledging Labor Party being coopted by the Socialist Party.” It is a tactic right out of Saul Alinsky’s book Rules for Radicals.

SAPs would be a Democratic take over of Republican constituencies. Limited-government Republicans are only looking at Prop. 31 through the lens of regulatory relief.  And they have a fantasy that there would be no strings attached to revenue sharing.  They are completely blind to the co-optation aspect.

As Stanley Kurtz of National Review wrote to me in an email regarding the Republican fantasy of deregulation offered under Prop. 31:

“I can understand Republicans thinking this, not only because it’s a natural fantasy, but because this is what all the liberal groups and editorialists who oppose Prop. 31 say themselves.  They warn that the proposition is a bad idea because SAPs will get to evade important environmental laws.  That naturally makes Republicans think it will actually happen. Well, it will to a degree, but only for favored, urban-based SAPs, in my view.” 

“Neither side quite grasps that the whole exemption idea is designed as a lure to force local revenue sharing to save failing cities.  It’s like when Obama gives a waiver on Obamacare only to his favored union allies, or when he grants waivers on No Child Left Behind only to states that sign up for his Common Core program.  You only get the waiver if you do what he says.” 

SAPs Not Needed to Pool Funds

Another aspect that arose during the debate was the notion that a SAP was needed in order to pool state, local and federal funds for regional projects. It was stated that existing Joint Powers Authorities in California only allow the pooling of local funds.  This is a complete misunderstanding.

A Joint Powers Authority is an agency “whereby two or more local governments, or utility or transport districts can operate collectively” to undertake projects or programs that cut across political boundaries.

The California Government Code Sections 6500 to 6536 already contain provisions for Joint Powers Authorities to pool state, local, and federal funds.

The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center is an example of a joint-powers authority that pools state, local and federal funds for a regional transit project.

When completed, the $184.2 million ARTIC project is a public transportation hub for buses, taxis and other forms of public and private transit.  It may form a station stop for the future California high-speed rail project.

ARTIC is being undertaken by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a Joint Powers Authority.  It is composed of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, the Ventura County Transportation Commission, the Orange County Transportation Authority, the San Bernardino Associated Governments  and the Riverside County Transportation Commission.

The funding for the ARTIC project pools funding from local bond measures, state transportation improvement funds and federal funding, as follows:


Funding Sources
Measure M2 / Project T & R $99.2 million
Measure M Transit Revenue $43.9 million
2008 State Transportation Improvement Program $29.2 million
Federal Sources $11.8 million
*Total $184.2 million

Clearly, this indicates that Strategic Area Plans under Prop. 31 are not necessary to pool various taxes for regional transit projects in California.  Funds from various levels of government for regional projects can already be pooled under the Joint Powers Authority law in California.

In sum, Prop. 31 is political co-optation that would be a death knell for the Republican Party at the local level in California.

Related Articles

I'm Still Not Flying

John Seiler: One of my favorite columnists, Debra Saunders of the Chronicle, defended the TSA pat-downs at airports: TSA pat-downs

Caltrans director about to be quietly reconfirmed

April 2, 2013 By Katy Grimes Caltrans is an agency in trouble. The most recent buffoonery involves putting California motorists

The Polite Sacramento Tea Party

The tax day Tea Party held at the state capitol in Sacramento was a bustling event, attended by colorful, patriotic