Soapbox

California needs transparency on budget

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León talks with Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Senate Budget committee, in April as the Senate approved SB 132, a measure that increased gas taxes and vehicle fees to raise more than $5 billion a year for transportation projects.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León talks with Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Senate Budget committee, in April as the Senate approved SB 132, a measure that increased gas taxes and vehicle fees to raise more than $5 billion a year for transportation projects. The Associated Press

A culture of “business as usual” in Sacramento has resulted in massive new costs due to record-setting tax increases and spending scandals, burdening families across our state. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Californians to afford to live and work here.

We believe that the root cause of these new costs is a lack of real budget transparency.

Just last month, Sacramento Democrats passed the largest gas tax increase in state history. Remarkably, this crisis in transportation funding was created by the Legislature itself. For years, billions of transportation dollars have been diverted to the general fund. Our legislative leaders claimed that the only way to solve this self-created problem was to increase our gas tax – a tax that will now continue to rise automatically in perpetuity without a vote of the public.

We proposed an alternative transportation funding solution that was based on the key principle that all transportation funds should be spent only on transportation needs. If we just did that, we would not need to increase taxes or fees one penny to fix our roads and provide much-needed traffic congestion relief.

We strongly believe that the Legislature needs to first do the hard work of prioritizing its own budget before we ask California families to adjust their budgets and make additional sacrifices.

The problem is that without real budget transparency it is enormously difficult to hold lawmakers accountable for their budgeting decisions. A more transparent process would ensure public dollars are being spent on the basic needs the public expects government to fund, rather than on the priorities of politicians and special interests.

To keep Sacramento accountable, the public deserves the opportunity to see how their government is spending their money and whether it’s going to its intended purpose.

Just this month, we saw another example of the consequences of an opaque budget when the state auditor issued a scathing report on the University of California Office of the President. It is a glimpse of what unelected bureaucrats do with tax money when they think nobody is looking. The audit revealed that the UC’s executive office has amassed an undisclosed $175 million reserve fund, which was used for administrator pay, bonuses and a remodel of the president’s house.

What makes this particularly egregious is that the UC system had just raised tuition on students with the argument that this was necessary to meet the costs of running the institution.

With more detailed budget information, maybe this would not have occurred. Perhaps administrators would have spent responsibly because they knew the public was watching. Perhaps students would have pointed out ways for the university to be efficient, rather than simply asking for more money. Unfortunately we will never know, because the budget is shrouded in smoke and mirrors, making it nearly impossible for the public to review spending.

Ultimately, Californians should be able to see how the Legislature prioritizes state dollars and where specifically their tax dollars go. Sacramento needs to be held accountable for policies that continue to increase California’s cost of living based on the false argument that raising taxes and fees are the only way to fund the state’s needs. We will continue to fight for real budget transparency so that we stop the business-as-usual culture that is making our state unaffordable for everyday Californians.

Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield, is the Assembly vice chair of transportation and the chief Republican whip. He can be contacted at Assemblymember.Fong@assembly.ca.gov. Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, is vice chair of the Assembly Budget Committee. He can be contacted at Assemblymember.Obernolte@assembly.ca.gov.

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