Saturday, May 18, 2024

Most Californians recognize the state is wasting their tax money. They should start holding politicians accountable.

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Feel like your tax dollars are being wasted by the state of California?

You’re not alone.

A newly released survey by the Public Policy Institute of California  asked the question:  “Do you think the people in the state government waste a lot of the money we pay in taxes, waste some of it, or don’t waste very much of it?”

Overall, 45% of Californians perceived that “a lot” of their money was being wasted by the suits in Sacramento, 46% believed “some” of their money was wasted and a very bizarre 8% somehow go through life believing the politicians and bureaucrats in state government “don’t waste very much.”

The poll also showed that likely voters were a tad more skeptical than the average Californian, with 48% perceiving that Sacramento wastes “a lot” of their money, with just 5% saying they “don’t waste very much” money. That letter group must be the public employee union members.

The PPIC survey also found that the vast majority of Californians believe they pay “much more” (31%) or “somewhat more” (39%) in state and local taxes than they should.

These perceptions are rooted in reality.

For one, yes, Californians do have a higher state and local tax burden than most of the rest of the country. While California’s property taxation is relatively limited, thanks to Proposition 13, on everything else — from state income taxes to sales taxes to corporate taxes to gas taxes — yes, Californians pay higher taxes than most of the rest of the country in each of those categories.

It was just over two years ago that Californians, in a record turnout election year, rejected Proposition 15, which would have been a first step in gutting Prop. 13 by creating a split roll property tax system and allowing the state to bilk around $8 billion more in taxes from commercial properties every year.

But I also suspect many Californians are of the view that they’re also not getting their money’s worth for all the taxes they fork over to governments. The least the state of California could do is be a well-oiled machine delivering effective services so that Californians can at least get the sense that, “Well, I pay my taxes but at least it’s worth it.”

If you’re a regular reader of these pages, or someone who has noticed a thing or two, you know where this is going and can fill in the blank yourself.

What is California doing right?

I am stopping myself from leaving this section blank in response to the question above.

But seriously, what is California doing that indicates Californians are getting their money’s worth in high taxes?

What about the roads?

In 2021, the Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report ranked California’s highway 45th overall in the country and “next to last, 49th, in urban arterial pavement condition, 44th in urban Interstate pavement condition, and 40th in rural Interstate pavement condition,” as explained by report author Baruch Feigenbaum.

That was despite paying some of the highest gas taxes in the country, including more than 51 cents per gallon in state taxes.

“Unfortunately, as things currently stand, California has the worst of all worlds: high gas taxes and high state highway spending that produces bumpy, congested roadways and deficient bridges that are in need of repairs and modernization,” Feigenbaum noted.

OK, what about the schools?

In 2022, according to California’s Department of Education, just 47% of California’s students were proficient in English language arts and just 33% were proficient in mathematics. For Black students, just over 31% were proficient in English language arts and just under 16% were proficient in mathematics. For Latino students, just over 36% were proficient in English language arts and just 21% were proficient in math.

If this were a red state, we’d never hear the end of the systemic racism of the education system and the need to do anything necessary to correct such a profoundly miserable system.

Incidentally, the same year these terrible numbers came out was the same year Newsom was boasting California was on track to spend $22,850 per student per year.

OK, so the roads stink and the schools stink.

What about the homeless problem? 

Things are going well… right?


As CalMatters reported back in October, “The number of people in the Golden State without a stable place to call home has increased by at least 22,500 since 2019, to 173,800.”

This is despite huge spending sprees across the state to address the problem.

Here in Southern California, the most infamous example of what’s been going on is Los Angeles’ Measure HHH bond. Passed by voters in 2016 to give the city of Los Angeles $1.2 billion to house the homeless, the bond measure has failed to deliver the promised housing units. As then-City Controller Ron Galperin reported last year, the average cost per-unit of Measure HHH-funded homeless housing was around $600,000 and some projects exceeded $800,000.

It’s as if the goal was to put money in the pocket of developers and unions rather than rapidly getting homeless people dying on the streets housed.

I could go on, and on, and on, about virtually any issue, but I will stop here.

So …

Alright, so Californians not only pay high taxes but they get pretty horrible results, too.

I know some readers will write me and say something like, “Elect Republicans. That’s the solution.”

There’s logic to it: California is a one-party state. We’re getting bad results for it. Therefore, we need to break the one-party system by voting for the other party.

But there’s also nothing stopping Democratic voters and officials from caring about efficiency or effectiveness.

I can imagine Democratic voters valuing those things, but the typical Democratic politician definitely doesn’t, because, up to this point, they don’t have to.

The typical Democratic politician just has to not be a Republican and otherwise be eligible to win in most state races.

They can promise bold, expensive action on this, that and whatever, and no one really holds them accountable when nothing goes according to plan and all that’s happened is a bunch of money has been transferred to their favorite special interest groups (see: the bullet train, see: K-12).

We have seen people like Fiona Ma champion the bullet train as an assemblymember, then work her way up to state treasurer. We have seen people like Gavin Newsom promise to end homelessness in San Francisco back in 2008 when he was mayor, and now he’s governor of California with delusions of the presidency before him. It goes on and on and on.

So, if Californians want more bang for their buck, that needs to change.

Rather than rewarding talk, reward results. When politicians put together transportation plans, they should worry about actually promoting mobility, not the number of union jobs provided. When politicians look to solve the problems in our failing K-12 system, they should look for results, not ways to shield mediocre teachers and superfluous administrators from accountability.

Politicians need to actually be held accountable for the results of their policies.

If that happened, maybe people wouldn’t feel so bad about getting gouged so much.

Sal Rodriguez can be reached at 

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