Wednesday, December 10, 2008
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Government for the Government
By JON COUPAL
If Abraham Lincoln were delivering his Gettysburg Address today, he might feel compelled to conclude, “... that government for the government shall not perish from this earth.” He was “Honest Abe” after all.
Let’s take a look at how Sacramento really operates.
Those in power in the Capitol — as well as many local politicians — make skillful use of those who rely on government services to advance their spending agenda. They use children, the disabled, the elderly, and others who appear vulnerable, to justify increasing taxes. When reasonable arguments are made that higher taxes in an already high-tax state could lead to fiscal ruin and less for everyone, politicians and bureaucrats use these dependent classes as human shields.
But who really is at risk if spending is curtailed modestly or if the rate of increase is limited? A number of years ago, David Doerr, who is probably California’s foremost expert on tax policy, observed that during budget negotiations, 90 percent of those testifying in support of greater spending are the providers, not the recipients, of state services. If the ratio has changed at all, it is surely higher.
According to the US Census Bureau, California has the highest paid public employees in the nation. Additionally, our state has the highest paid Legislature. And it is not an exaggeration to say that, for these folks, the number one priority of governing is taking care of state employees, lawmakers and their friends. In short, they look after themselves.
Eighteen years ago, Californians, tired of the arrogance of career politicians, approved term limits. Term limits remain popular as evidenced by the recent rejection of Prop 93 which would have substantially weakened the original limits. While no panacea, term limits have resulted in several modest but important improvements.
For example, our Legislature now looks more like a cross section of the California population and no longer can a single entrenched lawmaker exert a stranglehold over legislative affairs for years on end. But despite these improvements, politicians still find ways to take care of their own after they are forced from office.
The November election, helped by term limits, has resulted in the flushing out of 34 Assemblymembers and Senators out of a total of 120. Will the displaced representatives return to the private sector and live under the laws they have passed? When pigs fly! The existing legislative leadership has already begun the bi-annual process of providing welfare to their outgoing colleagues. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has just appointed termed out Assemblyman John Laird to the Integrated Waste Management Board.
The job pays $132,178 per year. On the Senate side, President Pro Tempore Don Perata has selected the soon-to-be-jobless Sen. Sheila Kuehl to replace former Sen. Wes Chesbro, who was appointed to the panel after he left office in 2006, but who no longer needs the cushy job because he has just been elected to the Assembly. Other members of the Waste Management board include the wife of another former lawmaker, and a former scheduler for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — and this is just one board out of many.
For those who may have wondered why the state spends millions each year on scores of little-used and often worthless boards and commissions that pay handsomely for only a few hours of work each month, these appointments may provide clarification.
So as our political class shrieks and bellows that without major tax increases there will not be enough to support the needy, remember, on their list of the truly needy, they rank number one.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company