By Steven Greenhut | “Never give the bastards more money,” a friend always says when discussing proposed tax increases. “They’ll only squander it.” That also epitomizes my philosophy over decades of voting and writing about ballot initiatives and bonds. I always recommend a “no” vote, even if the proposal would fund legitimate and badly needed infrastructure projects — and especially if tax supporters hysterically predict the end of civilization if the measure fails.
California voters almost always ignore such advice. Few people track the spending priorities of government officials after voters grant them the cash. After the Santa Ana Unified School District convinced residents to pass a bond to upgrade its overcrowded schools, the board immediately approved a “project labor agreement” that gave union contractors a monopoly over construction. That squandered 10 percent to 20 percent of the budget for nothing (other than winning union favor), and the district could only upgrade five of the 13 promised schools. It’s sadly typical.
My favorite local example involved the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District, which scared the heck out of residents about West Nile virus and an encroaching menace: the red imported fire ant. Such pests could be handled by, say, calling an exterminator if you found a nest in your back yard. Instead, voters gave the district more money. Its main priority after the increase was to increase its workers’ pensions by 62 percent. A few years later, the agency tried to spend from $1 million to $10 million hatching a mosquito museum.
It’s even worse at the state level, of course. In 2017, California lawmakers decided to finally do something about the state’s overburdened infrastructure of roads, freeways, and bridges. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown muscled the Legislature into passing increases in gas and diesel taxes and a significant boost in vehicle-license fees. Brown had a nasty habit of holding transportation funding hostage during budget negotiations. To most of us, roads should be at the top of a state’s funding priorities, but instead Democratic officials prefer to ignore them — and then claim that there wasn’t enough money to expand capacity without a tax hike.
The Legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to boost taxes to pay for such funding, as poor road conditions had been stirring up a public furor.
To read the entire column in The American Spectator, please click here.