Prop. 31 is a Trojan Horse for wealth redistribution

Sept. 27, 2012

By Wayne Lusvardi

Recently I was invited to be the “No on Proposition 31” speaker at a local election forum, which I reported on here.  My honorable conservative debate opponent expressed disbelief that Prop. 31 would end up with regional proxy governments around California that would require sharing tax revenues between wealthy and “disadvantaged” areas.

To help make my case, I cited Stanley Kurtz’s book, “How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities.”  The book explains the emerging social policy of using coerced revenue sharing to form hybrid regional governments for wealth distribution.

But even Kurtz’s book didn’t seem to convince many of those still seduced by the enticements in Prop. 31: a two-year state budget, a “pay-go” requirement for funding any new programs; performance budgeting; promised deregulation of laws identified by local government; authority for the governor to call a fiscal emergency and veto budget items; and the creation of “small is beautiful” regional governments.

The problem is that none of these promised reforms requires voter approval or the necessity of a state constitutional amendment, except one: the provision for the creation of Strategic Action Plans.  Strategic Action Plans is a term for regional government like the socialized European Union, not like county governments in the United States.

Prop. 31 would authorize the formation of SAP committees to undertake regional projects and programs.  A SAP would be run by a committee appointed by a group of local governments that wanted to run their own programs by their own rules.

Such committees would not be miniature legislatures that could pass their own laws, however.  They would still have to appeal to the union-controlled California Legislature to relax rules or pool revenues for joint programs.  This is where the Legislature would mandate that every local regional henhouse would have to include a fox.

To understand how Prop. 31 might work, look at California SBX2 1, the Water Quality, Flood Control, Water Storage, and Wildlife Preservation Act of 2008.  SB 1 repealed the Integrated Regional Water Management Planning Act of 2002.

SBX2 1 is a Mini-Prop. 31

SBX2 1 created a new layer of government for water management in California.  It authorized the California Department of Water Resources and the State Department of Health Services to serve as funding conduits to “regional water management groups.”  These groups would be composed of three or more local public agencies, two of which have to be water agencies.

It was coupled with funding from several water bonds passed by voters:

Proposition 50, the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002. It provided $500 million to fund competitive grants out of a $3.44 billion total bond issue for regional water management groups that had an adopted water management plan.  It passed with 55.3 percent of votes.

Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality, and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006. It provided $1 billion out of a total $5.4 billion bond issue for water management planning and implementation. It passed with 53.8 percent of votes.

Proposition 1E, the Disaster Preparedness and Flood Prevention Bond Act of 2006. It which provided $300 million out of a total $4.09 billion in bonds for storm water flood management.  It passed with 66.4 percent of votes.

The funding of “regional water management groups” is not done through a grant funding application.  Instead, the approval of the “composition of an Integrated Regional Water Management” region into the Department of Water Resources grant program is required.

Regional Water Management Groups

SBX2 1 provided a definition of a water management plan, a definition of an eligible region, and program guidelines.  This law defined a “regional water management group” as that having an adopted water management plan.  A water management group can participate by means of a joint powers authority agreement, a memorandum of understanding, or any other written agreement.

SBX2 1 specifically targeted revenue sharing with disadvantaged communities:

Section 10534: “[I]dentifies communities in the region and takes the water-related needs of those communities into consideration.”

Section 10541 (b): “To the extent feasible, each state agency shall provide outreach to disadvantage communities to promote access to and participation in meetings.”

Section 10541 (e, 6): “Identification and consideration of the water-related needs of disadvantaged communities in the area within the boundaries of the plan.”

Section 10541 (g, 12):  “The guidelines shall require an integrated regional water management plan include a public process and an opportunity to participate in plan development and implementation for:  disadvantaged community members and representatives, including environmental justice organizations, neighborhood councils, and social justice organization.”

Section 83002 (b, 10): “[T]he sum of fifty million dollars (shall be allocated) to the State Department of Public Health for grants to small community drinking water system infrastructure improvements and related action to meet safe drinking water standards.  First priority for these funds shall be given to disadvantaged or severely disadvantaged communities lacking resources to provide safe drinking water to residents.”

Section 83002 (B,II, c): “[T]he department shall allocate not less than 10 percent to facilitate and support the participation of disadvantaged communities in integrated regional water management planning.”

Regional water quality management groups could be said to be one of the reasons why five water bonds totaling $15.4 billion produced no new sources of water or reservoirs for water storage.  The goal of water bonds passed from 2000 to 2008 was wealth redistribution, not the redistribution of water from nature to fish, farmers and cities.

Stealth Prop. 31

Once widely disclosed, the above revenue sharing provisions certainly would set off a political firestorm.

Certainly, this wasn’t disclosed to the voters when the above-described water bonds were put on the ballot.

Nevertheless, SBX2 1 creates a moral hazard of providing an incentive for migration to rural areas, where there is no permitted, safe drinking water. It creates a de facto, “will serve,” water-on-demand requirement that runs against water conservation goals.  While Los Angeles suburbs are under surveillance by water police, rural migrant enclaves can demand water at the suburbs’ expense.

SBX2 1 is instructive to all those conservative communities that believe they can get environmental laws relaxed and welfare laws tightened in their region.  What SBX2 1 indicates is that the only laws that will be relaxed are zoning, subdivision, and public health laws to further the goals of “equity” and wealth distribution.

The message for suburbs is: if you want your public transit project or performance budgeting for welfare programs, you will have to accept brand new luxury “affordable” housing, or relaxed qualification rules for welfare. It would be the demise of “home rule” and rule by dictate from Sacramento. Many conservatives can’t seem to understand this realpolitik.

SBX2 1 indicates that, once enacted, Prop. 31’s “Strategic Action Plan” committees could be funded from a variety of revenue sources, including future state bond issues that have not yet even been conceived.

Kurtz writes that followers of Saul Alinsky’s radical political tactics

“pride themselves on finding unexpected ways to pressure politicos by researching obscure statutes and bureaucratic practices that nobody pays much attention to.  This is especially easy to do on the local level. Organizing cities and a few relatively impoverished ring suburbs also makes it possible to create a movement without even attempting to recruit more conservative rural and suburban voters…Starting locally gave Alinsky stealth when he wanted it and extracted maximum leverage from minimal organizational effort.”

It is not hysteria or speculation that Prop. 31 is a regional tax-sharing scheme.   If passed by the voters, Prop. 31 would be SBX2 1 on steroids.


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  1. Ron Kilmartin
    Ron Kilmartin 27 September, 2012, 10:22

    *We do not need more layers of government, particularly of the soviet style of appointed political commissars. To the contrary we need less government. Starting with the legislature meeting half-time every 2 years will be a good initial effort. Abolishing all the foolish anti-CO2 regulations, cap and trade, etc. (e.g., AB32) throughout the state should be the second top-priority change in CA government. And from the description of SBX 2 1 that is a similar scheme for setting up a gang of appointed political commissars that should be trashed.

    Reply this comment
  2. Jordan
    Jordan 27 September, 2012, 12:24

    If you read the language for yourself, you will find this measure does wonders for Sacramento, increasing the transparency and accountability of our politicians. With all the out of control, irresponsible spending, and special interest corruption in Sacramento, this provides an excellent reform to get California working for us again. Politicians are held more accountable in their spending, leading to more responsible use of our tax dollars. Sounds like a great step in the right direction.

    Reply this comment
  3. Osahon
    Osahon 27 September, 2012, 13:09

    Look, California needs reform. Badly. We are among the nation’s leaders in every terrible financial statistic. As a voter, I demand more accountability from my state government, as well as a true push for reform, and it that happens through the collaboration of local gov’ts, I’m all for it.

    Reply this comment
  4. Janae
    Janae 27 September, 2012, 13:24

    Nothing will make California perfect or snap out of its economic crisis overnight, but we have to start somewhere. This bill pushes for transparency for Californians & brings them out of the dark concerning the budget. It aims to show exactly how the state is using their tax money. It specifies that the state budget & subsequent laws are to be easily accessible for both public contribution & review. This will stop California politicians from voting on them without public knowledge. The California budget has been a big secret for too long & it is time politicians respect California voter’s rights & allow them to have a voice in the matter of their tax dollars & how they are being spent.

    Reply this comment
  5. Jordan
    Jordan 27 September, 2012, 13:54

    Is it me or does this sound pretty close the comments of someone wearing an aluminum foil hat and raving about the conspiracy to fluoridate the water? California needs serious budget reform and this takes a giant step in the right direction. Beyond that, coordination among localities to prepare disasters and build water systems sounds rather like a no-brainer.

    Reply this comment
  6. Rosie
    Rosie 27 September, 2012, 14:13

    So, what I’m hearing is: “a two-year state budget, a “pay-go” requirement for funding any new programs; performance budgeting; promised deregulation of laws identified by local government; authority for the governor to call a fiscal emergency and veto budget items.” All good things that will help improve California.
    Oh, but there’s this one thing the author doesn’t really like, let’s not have any reform and wait for each component to pass on its own.
    Are you kidding? We need to move beyond the status quo NOW, before it is too late, not wait for a perfect proposition in shining armour to save us!

    Reply this comment
  7. Stanley K.
    Stanley K. 27 September, 2012, 14:50

    Beware of Prop 31 campaign workers who repeat talking points such as “California needs reform,” “California needs serious budget reform,” “It’s not perfect but we have to start somewhere,” “this sounds like a great step in the right direction,” etc. Which is probably so obvious it doesn’t even need to be pointed out…

    Reply this comment
  8. Kodie
    Kodie 27 September, 2012, 18:20

    Stanley K. I’ll will be sure to keep a look out for these so-called “workers” in the mean time, why don’t you tell us how to fix this mess!

    Reply this comment
  9. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 27 September, 2012, 18:59

    Commenters 2 to 6 are paid supporters of Prop 31 who want to confuse with cliches.

    I worked in government for over 20 years. Voter approval and a Constitutional amendment is NOT needed for any of the so-called reforms in Prop 31 such as:

    1. Two-year budget cycle – tried in the 1930’s depression in California and failed.
    2. Performance budgeting – the high cost of performance budgeting will offset any gains and is the wrong budgeting too for agencies with make work jobs programs that need to be zero-base budgeted.
    3. Allowing Governor to call fiscal emergency and line out items in the budget – the governor already has these powers
    4. “Pay-go” means making sure there is money for a bill before the legislature passes it, or that another existing program can be cut to free up money for a new program. But think about this “pay-go” provision: it locks in the existing level of the state budget and does not allow it to be reduced or increased if necessary in an emergency. The legislature would just devise more gimmicks to get around this provision as they always have.
    5. Three days advance notice before the legislature can vote on a bill is also provided in Prop 31 to counter the legislature’s “gut and amend” practice of taking a bill on water and removing its language and then approving funding for say social services without any public notice. This 3-day rule can be gamed too — passing a law over the weekend would be standard operating procedure. And there would be a huge number of bills passed on 3-day holidays.
    6. The provision in Prop 31 for “Strategic Action Plan” committees is not needed – can be done as it is now through Joint Powers Authorities or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

    If there is so much “transparency” in Prop 31 why do its proponents have to deceive about it and rely on cliches?

    Reply this comment
  10. BobA
    BobA 27 September, 2012, 21:18

    If anyone wants to know the truth about prop 31, I have one simple suggestion: follow the money. The fact that paid supporters are using this forum to hype prop 31 suggests to me that something is inherently rotten about this proposition.

    Reply this comment
  11. Mark
    Mark 27 September, 2012, 22:46

    Dear author –

    What is wrong with
    1 – accountability

    2 – transparency

    3 – long term planning

    Tell us what your real agenda is.

    Reply this comment
  12. Lenea
    Lenea 29 September, 2012, 00:15

    It sounds like this would be a great first step in the right direction. We need change to our system. What we have now does not work. We need more transparency and a system that the voters and the government can actually understand. It is no wonder the different departments are discovering money or losing money, no one can understand how it works.. A few years ago California Forward, Repair California, and the Bay Area Council worked hard to get a constitutional convention on the ballot and it failed. People were afraid to have sweeping changes to the constitution, that is understandable. That is why this sounds like a great first step. Do it in stages to see what works or doesn’t work. We might fail at times and find things that also don’t work but our system isn’t working now so what is the risk

    Reply this comment

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