Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
When I was director of Finance, trying to get the state's budget into balance and running up against roadblocks in the Legislature, I had a similar view of our legislative process.
Thus, I cannot argue that the state should never raise tobacco taxes. Even though I'm a Republican, I recognize that revenue increases of various kinds may have to be part of any long-term solution to our chronic budget woes. But, I must say to some astonishment that Proposition 29 would impose a very large increase in tobacco taxes and use it all to create yet another unaccountable, out-of-control bureaucracy. Especially now, we need to scale back the bureaucracies we have not create more.
As we await yet another, probably phony, probably flawed solution to our chronic structural budget deficits, I would understand any group of citizens wanting to take matters into their own hands and force solutions onto the Legislature.
But Proposition 29 will not help our budget. And in considering this measure, we voters should all take a step back and remember how our good intentions have gone awry in the past. Proposition 29, the poorly drafted $735 million annual tax-and-spend mandate on the June ballot, has the same all-too-familiar problems as three of our past misguided forays into ballot-box budgeting:
High-speed rail/Proposition 1A: Voters said yes to funding this project in 2008, but after years of poor management, multimillion-dollar contracts for public relations and lobbying firms, and conflicts of interest, voters now want to scrap this $68 billion "Train to Nowhere."
First Five/Proposition 10: These commissions were supposed to support early childhood programs, but spent some of the billions in tobacco tax funding on a $50,000 salmon statue and a huge political campaign run by its then-chairman all while failing to exercise appropriate oversight and control. According to news reports, a recent audit of a county First Five commission found that it was "over-staffed, while under-spending on programs for children," and a local supervisor criticized the agency for "sitting on over $800 million some of it for no apparent reason."
Stem Cell Institute/Proposition 71: The institute paid its taxpayer-funded president an unprecedented half-million-dollar salary, while failing to deliver the results voters anticipated and expected.
When I took a close look at Proposition 29 for the "No on 29" committee, I found that it shares many of the flaws that corrupted the good intentions of these other measures. Its structure lacks the oversight and accountability necessary to prevent similar kinds of waste, fraud and abuse that those measures allowed. In the end, we are a representative democracy, and we need to be able to hold the governor, the Legislature and all public institutions accountable when things go wrong, even when they go wrong with the best of intentions.
Proposition 29 prevents that. It gives a new, unelected bureaucracy unsupervised power to spend nearly a billion dollars a year. It explicitly prevents the Legislature from intervening if problems arise by "continuously appropriating" the funds so that the Legislature has no say in how they are spent and absolutely prohibiting it from making any changes to the way the new bureaucracy is organized or operated for 15 years. Even after the 15 years are up, the Legislature could only make changes requested by the bureaucrats.
Like most Californians, I would like to see the Legislature execute more oversight and give us citizens greater confidence that government is being run effectively and efficiently. But the solution to their shortcomings is certainly not to try a form of government in which unelected political appointees get to run wild and unsupervised which is exactly what Proposition 29 does.
Vote no on Proposition 29.