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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

O.C. Voters Can Use Ballots to Change Legislative Spending

October 27, 2002|Steven B. Frates

Orange County voters could certainly be forgiven if they approached the upcoming elections with dread. The local citizenry shovels tax dollars to Sacramento at a prodigious rate, while their legislative delegation consistently manages to ensure that precious few of those tax dollars return to constituents.

Republican legislators mumble that AB 8 (the infamous legislation concocted in 1978 by legislative staffers after voters passed Proposition 13) prevents the county from getting anything close to its fair share of state money. Democratic legislators revel in chairing "important committees." Easily manipulated, the county's Democratic state legislators rather remind one of small children who are given a cheap toy as a diversion, while more competent adults make serious decisions.

The local legislative delegation may be beyond redemption, but here are several hints to stir them from somnambulism:

Hint No. 1: AB 8 was enacted by the Legislature, which can change such legislation.

Hint No. 2: Because of AB 8, every Southern California county gets a raw deal from the state.

Hint No. 3: More Californians live in Southern California than in Northern California. Hint No. 4: There are more state legislators from Southern California than from Northern California.

Armed with this information, the average high school civics student could conclude that legislators from Southern California could, if they were competent, change the flow of state cash to benefit their constituents. This distorted appropriation of state funds has been going on for about 25 years. It is past time for the local legislative delegation and their Southern California colleagues to correct this imbalance.

The local legislative delegation will probably whine that nothing can be done about AB 8 (and subsequent legislative offspring) this year because of the "budget crisis."

Indeed. One might wonder how a state government that had a huge surplus just a few years ago could so quickly be in a financial crisis. One might not be too surprised to know that the Legislature has managed to increase spending very rapidly in the last few years. More rapidly, in fact, than the growth of personal income among all Californians. Guess which Californians will be paying a disproportionate share of taxes to fund the legislative spending spree?

While there are all too many examples in the last two years of legislative profligacy with taxpayer dollars, Orange County citizens who have suffered from a decrease in their retirement portfolios might particularly wish to consider how their legislators voted on the recently enacted AB 2023. In California, police officers and firefighters are eligible, if the governing city council or county board of supervisors approves, to retire at age 50 with 3% of their highest year's pay credited for each year of service.

So, for example, a firefighter who started at age 20 could retire at age 50 and receive 90% of his or her yearly salary annually in retirement. This is a very generous pension, by any measure. It is certainly true, however, that police officers and firefighters need to be reasonably young and physically fit to carry out their duties. AB 2023 extended these same retirement benefits to district attorneys and public defenders, who certainly do not need to be young or physically fit. And, local taxpayers will be on the hook to finance this lavish retirement benefit for these "public safety" attorneys.

Unfortunately, the Legislature is not the only source of dread for Orange County voters. Proposition 51, a statewide initiative, would redirect tax revenue generated from the sale of new and used motor vehicles. Currently, such sales taxes go to the state general fund. Cynics might say that Prop. 51 makes a clever play on public dissatisfaction with the fact that the state Legislature imposes a general sales tax on gasoline. But Proposition 51 does not address that problem.

What Prop. 51 does is direct sales tax (but not the dreaded motor vehicle license tax) paid on motor vehicles to a mishmash of special interest "transportation" projects. By odd coincidence, the advocates of Prop. 51 collected huge amounts of money from the beneficiaries of these special interest projects. By yet another odd coincidence, none of these special-interest projects would otherwise be funded by the taxpayers. By a final odd coincidence, more than $200 million of these special interest projects would go to Irvine.

Of course, if Prop. 51 passes, taxpayers in other cities will have to make up the difference for legitimate projects that lost funding to Prop. 51 special interest projects.

If you like higher taxes, and less money from Sacramento, by all means vote for our incumbent state legislators. If you want more of your tax dollars to go to Irvine, and less to the rest of Orange County, by all means vote for Prop. 51.

*

Steven B. Frates is a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

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