Diary

Californians ask, Where’s Our Money Gone?

Pretty obvious the state is broke; we’re over taxed, what gives?

One thing is no surprise, Californians keep voting for bond propositions like tougher sentencing for criminals and healthcare for kids, all good ideas, but with no additional funding sources allocated the draw is heavy.

Mercury News did an analysis that states basically California spent more than it took in. Duh. Sacramento politicians used accounting gimmicks to “balance” the books, like a person uses a credit card to pay off a credit card.

Now they want more tax money.

A Mercury News analysis of state spending since Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took office in late 2003 found that he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature have spent money well beyond the rate of inflation and California’s population growth — $10.2 billion more.

Yet the programs that received most of that money are priorities that Californians broadly support or have demanded at the ballot box: tougher prison sentences for criminals, health care for uninsured children and an aging population, and a cut in the “car tax” that they pay every year to register their vehicles.

The problem, according to a report last week from the state auditor, is that Republican and Democratic politicians in Sacramento have shirked their responsibility for the past decade, papering over shortfalls that started after the dot-com bubble popped in 2001.

Like homeowners paying off one credit card with another, they used accounting gimmicks and more debt, rather than raising taxes or cutting spending, to balance the books. As the economy worsened and tax receipts plummeted — from $102.5 billion last year to an estimated $87.5 billion this year — the house of cards collapsed.

Finally, general fund spending on K-12 schools and social services, like welfare, actually grew less than the rate of inflation and population growth.

The state prison system received the biggest share, about $4.1 billion of it. Corrections spending has increased fivefold since 1994. At $13 billion last year, it now exceeds spending on higher education. Tough laws and voter-approved ballot measures have increased the prison population 82 percent over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, former Gov. Gray Davis gave the powerful prison guards union a 30 percent raise from 2003 to 2008, increasing payroll costs.

Public health spending — mostly Medi-Cal, the state program for the poor — received $2.9 billion above the rate of inflation and population growth. Part of that spike is due to an aging population; part is rising national health care costs. But state lawmakers also expanded Medi-Cal eligibility among children and low-income women a decade ago, increasing caseloads.

Schwarzenegger’s first act as governor, signing an executive order to cut the vehicle license fee by two-thirds, blew a large hole in the state budget. It saved the average motorist about $200 a year but would have devastated the cities and counties that had been receiving the money. So Schwarzenegger agreed to repay them every year with state funds. That promise now costs the state $6 billion a year, or $2 billion more than the rate of inflation and population growth since early 2003.

Spending on a few other areas, such as higher education, general government, transportation and environment, also grew faster — by about $1 billion each — than inflation and population over the past five years. That was mostly to cover debt payments on bonds that voters approved for parks and highways, along with moves to limit university tuition increases.

One of the state’s most famous tax-cut crusaders, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay, said the problem is that California’s bureaucracy has grown too large and powerful. Salaries are too high, it’s too difficult to fire state workers, and the entire system needs an overhaul, he said, including outsourcing to private firms everything from nonviolent inmates to highway engineering.

“We’ve got to put our wardens back in charge of prisons, and principals back in charge of teachers, and introduce competitive pressures back into those systems,” McClintock said.

Democrat’s answers? Raise taxes, and make it easier to raise them in the future by doing away with the 2/3 majority requirement in the state constitution, and make it harder to put propositions on the ballot.

My question; who’s in charge here the people or the government?

Same question we’re asking nationally. Remember, “As goes California, so goes the nation”? Keep watching California for a glimpse into your future.