Ballot Box Budgeting…Tax hikes & increased govt. spending coming to a ballot near you!

As the California Legislature proves itself to be more and more irrelevant, liberals have decided to take their tax and spend agenda to the ballot box. Unfortunately, recent history has proven that voters are willing to approve increased government spending as long as they believe that someone else is footing the bill.

The LA Times is reporting:

Actor and director Rob Reiner has collected more than 1 million signatures for a proposition that would increase taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal preschool. If validated by elections officials, the names would be more than enough to place the measure on the June primary ballot.

“We’re building a very broad coalition and we’re going about this in a very responsible way and we’re not trying to shove something down people’s throats by fiat,” Reiner said, contrasting his proposal with the ones Schwarzenegger and his allies devised this year.

Meanwhile, two groups are gathering signatures for competing initiatives that would raise the state’s cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack, to $2.37. That would be higher than in any other state except Rhode Island ($2.46) and New Jersey ($2.40), according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. A spokesman for Philip Morris USA said such an increase in California would be excessive.

But the potential revenue from such a tax — about $1.5 billion a year — is being eyed.

But Democrats are not alone in their desire to take increased spending to the voters. In and effort to increase the investment in the state’s deteriorating infrastructure, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is hoping to put a massive infrastructure bond on the 2006 ballot.

Schwarzenegger and Democratic leaders also hope to place on the ballot a gigantic public works project bond to repair the state’s sagging infrastructure. The measure would probably be the largest in California history — totaling in the tens of billions of dollars — and could lead lawmakers to put off for the second time a $10-billion bond for a high-speed rail line that is slated for the November general election. A $600-million library improvement bond initiative scheduled for the June primary is less likely to be affected.

While I agree that we must increase our investment infrastructure, I am always leery about going into debt to do so; especially considering that we are in this mess because the legislature has repeatedly taken the revenues from the gas tax (which is supposed to fund roads and transportation) and spent it on a host of other programs (for which the revenues were not intended.)

But even more distressing, I believe, is this fast moving trend toward ballot box budgeting. It is an outcropping of three key dysfunctions that exists in our governing process in California.

1. The current legislative districts promote partisanship and discourage true governance. Compromise on substantive legislation has taken a back seat to partisan rancor and divisive rhetoric.

2. The sizable contributions of public employee labor unions have given them a sizable amount of undo influence over Democrat policymakers. The result has been a dangerous conflict of interest that has representatives of public employee labor unions sitting on both sides the negotiating table when it comes to government spending on their salaries and benefits.

3. Points 1 & 2 combined with the advent of technology and increased political spending has made the initiative process a much more attractive option for interest groups who would rather play on the emotional fears of a relatively under-informed and seemingly unengaged electorate.

I wish I could say that these trends were changing. But the recent failure of initiatives in the special election that would have addressed some of these issues demonstrates that the electorate is at least for the time being, not willing to address these issues. Instead, we have chosen to continue allowing the inmates to run the asylum.

Craig DeLuz

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www.craigdeluz.com