Tuesday, March 11, 2003
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Democrats Playing a Dangerous Game of Political Chicken
By RAY HAYNES
(The writer represents the 66th Assembly District, which includes portions of western Riverside County and northern San Diego County. He is also the Senate Republican whip.)
Did you know that California is in the midst of a budget crisis? You wouldn’t if you actually watched the games they are playing in Sacramento. Our state government, faced with its largest deficit in its history—a $6 billion operating deficit in the current budget year (which ends on June 30, 2003)—is doing absolutely nothing to fix the problem. The governor proposed in December about $2.3 billion in actual current year reductions, but the legislature, after three months of politicking and dilly-dallying, has failed to enact even one penny of those reductions. At this rate, we will go bankrupt by about May 15, 2003. This figure doesn’t even consider the additional $20-$30 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The Democrats have passed legislation raising taxes, and then tried to force the governor to raise taxes in order to get any reductions at all. When the governor said no, they just sat for two weeks, not knowing what to do next. The next thing they did, however, was take the day off to protest our president’s policies in Iraq. The controller has now reported that we now need an $11 billion loan in May, just to stay afloat, and still they do nothing.
To give you an example of how out of control things have gotten here, the federal government pays for, but the state administers, the federal food stamp program. The feds recently fined the state $114 million for doing a bad job of administering that food stamp program. California has an error rate of 17.7 percent, compared to a national average of 8.3 percent.
It seems that the state overpaid $200 million worth of food stamps to people the feds said shouldn’t have got them. Even worse, the state deprived $75 million worth of food stamps from people who should have gotten them. California’s response? It’s not our fault. The federal government is wrong for punishing us for being incompetent.
The response of the Assembly’s top financial cop is even more laughable. Darrel Steinberg, the chair of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, has introduced AB 231, which would get rid of all the protections the state has against food stamp fraud. Getting rid of fraud detection devices is not a way to fix a program that already has $200 million in potential fraud. It is, however, a typical left-wing response to problems. Obviously, they believe that the problem in the system is not enough people are getting free government stuff.
Recent reports have also indicated that a 40 percent fraud rate exists in the unemployment system, totaling about $127 million. A state disability program that overpaid between $124 million and $200.7 on fraudulent claims. You have ineptitude to the tune of $200 million in food stamps, $127 million in unemployment, up to $200 million in the state disability program, and we wonder why we have a budget problem.
The majority in the state legislature, however, has more important things to do. They have a war to oppose, they have taxes to raise. The one bill they passed this week was AB 94, a measure intended to take away the right of the people to vote on taxes, and make it easier for local government to violate Proposition 13 protections.
The Democrats seem to be playing a dangerous game of political chicken with the taxpayers of this state. They continue to speed towards a certain collision with bankruptcy, spending the state further into the red, and daring the Republicans to blink first and bail them out by voting to raise taxes.
Unfortunately, if we do that, it will send our state’s economy right off the cliff. When we don’t go along and the budget collapses completely under its own weight, they will raise your car taxes without a vote of the legislature and blame Republicans for the fiscal debacle they have created.
This is a rational plan if their goal is political one-upsmanship and “winning” at any cost, but an outrageous plan if they’re interested in good public policy. Since they are in charge, however, they get to choose the games we play, and unless the people of this state rise up and force them to be more responsible, the coming crash will not be good for anyone.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company