If the energy crisis didn't dominate so much of the news from Sacramento, California's state budget should have provoked taxpayers to storm the docks looking for tea crates to vandalize. As the June 30th Constitutional deadline to pass the budget approaches, it is apparent that California's budget is in the same shambles as its energy policy.
The unavoidable and unpleasant fact is that California government now consumes more from family incomes than ever before ($9.09 out of every $100 earned - a record high), while delivering less than ever before.
As the state's new budget takes final form, taxpayers need to ask the question of their representatives, "are you spending my money as carefully as I spend what's left after you've taken my taxes?" When a government takes so much, it has an obligation to answer for the outcome.
To appreciate how shocking the answer is, one needs to go back to the last year of Gov. Pat Brown's administration. In 1966, voters booted him from office, in part because of charges that he was a profligate spender. And, in all fairness, he was.
The state was constructing the biggest aqueduct in history. It had just undertaken an unprecedented expansion of the state university system. It had created a state highway system that made California's freeways the model for the world. It had authorized major hydroelectric and nuclear facilities that promised a limitless supply of clean, cheap and abundant electricity. It delivered one of the finest public schools systems in the country and a mental health system that has yet to be rivaled. Spacious new homes at a fraction of today's prices were springing up in new communities across the state.
To produce all this, in 1966 Pat Brown spent $1,300 for every man, woman and child in California (in 2000 inflation-adjusted dollars). Gray Davis wants to spend nearly $3,000 per person -- or two and a half times more.
In 1966, Brown delivered a first rate school system for about $3,000 per student from all sources: local, state and federal, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Davis will spend more than $9,000 per student from all sources to deliver a school system that consistently ranks near the bottom of national student achievement.
The only area where Davis is spending less than Brown is for transportation. In the May budget revision, he slashed general fund support for transportation by 70 percent. California once had the finest highway system in the world. Just look at it now.
Californians are about to see yet another state budget that takes record amounts from their earnings while delivering nothing but excuses. It doesn't need to be that way, but it will require some fundamental changes in the way California does business. Among them:
* Decentralize the service delivery systems of the state, allowing local governments the latitude they need to adjust their services and resources according to their own best lights.
* Restore our highway taxes for our highways. Californians bear the third heaviest taxes per vehicle in the nation, yet we rank dead last in our per capita spending on roads.
* Reward the good teachers and fire the lousy ones. There's something desperately wrong when the best and the brightest teachers in California are paid the same as the dullest and laziest.
* Allow state government to engage private firms when they can provide services faster, better and cheaper than the state's slothful bureaucracies.
* Stop taking the taxes paid by one community for projects that exclusively benefit another - literally robbing Piedmont to pay Pasadena.
* Stop borrowing from our children and our grandchildren to pay for our own consumption.
* Remove the bureaucratic obstacles that once produced affordable housing and clean, cheap and abundant electricity.
* Stop telling people how to run their lives, raise their children, and spend their money.
If this were Pat Brown's 1966 budget, adjusted for inflation and population growth he would be requesting $40 billion - not the $100 billion that Gray Davis wants to spend. Proportionally, that is what it should cost to produce the prosperous state we once had.