How soon we forget the lessons of the past.
It seems like only yesterday that Gov. Jerry Brown served hot dogs at his inauguration and took cell phones away from state employees to communicate a symbolic commitment to fiscal prudence as the state struggled through the Great Recession.
Now state coffers are flush with surplus cash and at least one state agency has spent thousands of dollars on fancy toilets for an employee party.
The California Prison Industry Authority is under fire for spending $12,000 to hold a retirement bash for a manager who retired earlier this year.
Where did all that money go? Food, table and chair rentals, coffeemakers and decorative centerpieces – and, most glaringly, toward extravagant toilet rentals, according to records obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
“The party’s biggest expenditure was the rental of two three-restroom stalls from Royal Restrooms, a company that describes its units as ‘upscale’ and the ‘best units available in the industry’ on its website. Outfitted with rugs, flowers, artwork and mints, the stalls cost $5,731, according to an invoice,” wrote Bee reporter Wes Venteicher.
The authority is investigating spending on the party and said it will seek to recoup spending deemed inappropriate.
If the state wants to spend $6,000 on toilets, perhaps it should consider chipping in for public toilets in places like Sacramento, where growing homeless populations have limited access to lavatories to the detriment of community health.
The city of Sacramento is working to expand toilet access, with one project estimated to cost $625,000. The City Council would surely appreciate a boost in funding from the state to support efforts, which if expanded could help reduce E. coli in the American River.
The Prison Industry Authority at least saved time and resources in one manner, even if only after some pushing: After initially refusing to hand over public records, it finally supplied documents revealing the inappropriate expenditures.
“The agency initially denied The Bee’s records request, citing an exemption related to ongoing investigations, but reconsidered its request after a back-and-forth with The Bee’s attorneys. The state released the records last week,” wrote Venteicher.
Taxpayers are on the hook for state agency spending. They have a right to know how public officials use that money. There’s no good reason why public money should be used to cover a retirement party featuring luxury rental bathrooms.
If friends of a retiring state employee want to celebrate their transition in style, they can do that with their own money. Otherwise, stick with hot dogs. If they were good enough for a four-time governor’s inaugural, they should be good enough for a state agency manager’s retirement.
State funding may seem flush, but we’ll miss every penny when the economy goes down the tubes.
“What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession. So good luck, baby,” said Gov. Brown after revealing his final state budget in 2018.
Wasteful spending had already begun to grow back under his watch. This latest revelation should be a wake up call to Gov. Gavin Newsom about the kind of shenanigans that take place in state government when no one is minding the store.
State workers: If you’re aware of other examples of wasteful spending, please reach out to Wes Venteicher, the Bee’s State Worker reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 916-321-1410.