I'm not implying that most state legislators have a tendency to lie about what they are going to do or actually do with tax dollars.
Let's just say they are situationally ethically challenged when they don't have the money on hand and don't have the fortitude to say no to special interest groups that lobby them for funding or tax breaks,
It is why on the June 5 ballot you will find Proposition 69. In a nutshell it mandates that "certain new transportation revenues" (the 12 cent a gallon gas tax hike) be used only for transportation purposes and "generally prohibits" the legislature from diverting funding to other purposes.
The fact that such a measure is on the ballot tells you a lot about the political climate the California Legislature has created that is reminiscent to a degree of the days leading up to June 6, 1978.
That's when taxpayers fed up with the California Legislature continually lying to them about property tax reform and promises to stop spending money they didn't have triggered the 9.0 seismic event known as Proposition 13 followed by the major aftershock 16 months later dubbed the Gann Initiative. The Gann measure placed limits on the growth of publicly funded expenditures.
Proposition 69 is a valiant attempt at addressing the ongoing tendency of the state to dip into revenue streams they put in place with the explicit promise to use for a specific purpose. I say valiant given the chance, based on polling, are close to 50-50 another taxpayer revolt on the scale of Proposition 13 could happen in November if enough collected signatures are valid to place the repeal of the gas tax on the ballot.
Repeal of the gas tax would be a major calamity given California's transportation infrastructure needs.
A good share of the anger over the gas tax increase has been fueled by reports that the legislature in the past has dipped into gas taxes for non-transportation purposes either as a loan or as an expenditure they could justify after doing a legal contortion act. Of course it wasn't on the massive scale that has been portrayed nor can it be blamed for the bulk of the deplorable shape of roads. We simply haven't been collecting enough gas tax funds to maintain what we have given that as fuel efficiency has increased and miles driven have risen dramatically the tax collected per mile driven has dropped. Roads wear down. The more traffic the more wear.
I get that a sin is a sin.
In a way passage of Proposition 69 may be enough to convince more than a few rightfully angry taxpayers that tying the hands of Sacramento where it would be virtually impossible for them to prevail in court should they do a slight of hand trick with the additional gas tax increase revenue might save us from ourselves.
It cannot be stressed enough that we would not be facing a possible major revolt in November if it wasn't for the cavalier attitude Sacramento takes when it comes to essentially not keeping their word and being fast and loose with money that's not there's while arguing it's only pennies.
The problem is a dollar or two at the gas pump every four or five days is a big deal for a working stiff with a family to feed and clothe who isn't pulling down $104,118 a year as an Assembly member does and gets $183 per diem when the legislature is in session on top of mileage or use of a state-issued vehicle.
Taxpayers will support taxes if they are justified and are spent on exactly what they are told they will be spent on.
San Joaquin County's Measure K half cent sales tax for road and transportation projects is a prime example. It's been extended once already by voters because elected leaders did not violate their trust.
Back in the 1990s there was a Ripon council member that advocated tapping into Measure K funds to devise economic incentives to get firms to relocate here from the Bay Area. His rationale: If jobs are created in the valley it will reduce the commute over the Altamont Pass. His peers on the San Joaquin Council of Governments agreed with the logic but refused to take a bite of the apple. There reason was pure and simple. A promise was made to the voters and taxpayers on exactly how the half cent collected would be spent. The promise had to be kept or else it would erode trust. To govern effectively you need to have people place their trust in you. Violate that trust and you lose the ability to govern.
The state's fast and loose approach to not spending tax dollars as authorized either by the legislature's action or at the ballot box is not limited to gas tax.
Back in the March of 2000 voters approved another Proposition 13 - a $1.97 billion water bond. Among other things it was supposed to pay for a study on potential dredging and other possible improvements to reduce flooding on the Lower San Joaquin River between Vernalis and Mossdale. The study - nor were a number of other projects - ever done. That's because the legislature borrowed $1 billion in bond money to cover payroll and other general fund costs dealing with water issues due to the cyclical budget shortfalls the state experiences instead of cutting the bureaucracy.
The "loan" was never paid back. It passed muster because it was water-related and the ballot measure didn't expressly prohibit "loaning" the money.
The bottom line: Don't trust the tax addicts in Sacramento with free access to the cookie jar.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.