by Assemblyman Dan Logue, 3rd District
Just as the sun rises and sets each day, California continues to spend more than it takes in each year. It does not matter who the Governor is, who controls the Legislature or how the economy is performing - state government cannot control its spending and is constantly asking citizens like you for more money.
Many Californians believe that if the economy just got better, Sacramento's budget problems would disappear. As I complete my third year in the State Assembly, I can say with confidence that this will not be the case. An improved economy would only temporarily mask the long-term budget problems that are piling billions of debt on our children and grandchildren.
Now thanks to research from California Common Sense, a non-partisan organization created by Stanford University students and alumni to promote efficient governance, we have more data that confirms the obvious: California's overspending is systemic, not temporary.
The report, titled "The Top Five Issues Driving California's Overspending," succinctly states five major reasons why our state struggles to balance its books each year:
· Institutional sprawl in the Executive Branch
· Lack of coordination in Health and Human Services
· Overspending on Prisons
· Mismanagement of Education Funding
· Pension-related Liabilities
The quick takeaway from the report is that the state wastes billions of dollars each year on unnecessary bureaucracy and mismanagement. No surprise there, but what is different is that it brings together serious issues that can be understood without a Ph.D. in economics. For example, why does California spend so much more per prisoner than comparable states like Texas? Why does California have 530 institutions in its executive branch while other states have significantly less?
Take tax collection for example. California's system is divided between four bureaucracies - the Board of Equalization, Franchise Tax Board, Department of Motor Vehicles and Employment Development Department. Each bureaucracy is charged with collecting specific taxes, such as the DMV collecting the car tax. The current system is duplicative, inefficient and confusing for everyone involved. Why can't we consolidate these bureaucracies into one? This move would save taxpayer millions while improving customer service.
Another avenue for reform is pensions for public employees. We know the current system is unsustainable for taxpayers as they have to cover any shortfalls in investments made by the state's pension funds. With a shortfall estimated as high as $500 billion, we need to take a second look at a system that is consuming more of the state budget each year.
The Common Sense report raises uncomfortable truths for Sacramento. Unless Governor Brown and the Legislature act boldly to address our long-term budget problems, they will only grow worse. Unfortunately, the liberal majority that controls our state thinks that higher taxes will solve our problems.
Even if they are able to get their way, raising taxes will not make government more efficient. It will not give bureaucrats any incentive to be more efficient with the resources they do have. They will simply ask for even more taxes when they run out of money.
That is why I am working on reform measures when the Legislature reconvenes in January that will address some of the issues raised in the report. What is lacking most in Sacramento is not money, but willpower. While Republicans and Democrats can disagree about the level of funding for specific programs, there should be no disagreement about consolidating redundant government functions and reducing the costs of providing services.
Improving government efficiency should not be controversial or partisan. We cannot continue to pretend that the present system is serving Californians well. The sooner we realize that, the better off we will be.
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Lake Wildwood, represents the 3rd Assembly District in the California Legislature.