Activists enraged by California's runaway spending have begun a campaign for the "Stop Blanks Check" ballot initiative. The measure, sure to make the ballot next November, thanks to $3 million in contributions and loans from wealthy Stockton-area formers and business owners Dean and Joan Cortopassi, aims to make sure that big-ticket multi-billion dollar spending projects have to be approved by the voters before they can move forward.
Right now, any big government projects costing over $2 billion in general fund dollars need a vote of the people. However, revenue bonds don't need a vote. So politicians start projects by committing voters to unlimited price tags without giving them any say about how their money will be spent. The "Stop Blank Checks" ballot measure forces a statewide vote on any project that, in parts or it total, would issue revenue bonds of $2 billion or more.
Some of California's politicians and big government insiders are nervous, as they should be. Their favorite way to do business is being threatened. And, who can blame them?
Things are always easier when a few well-connected insiders can go into a back room and get a deal done, without those pesky voters getting in the way. After all, we wouldn't want those "ill-informed" voters getting into the middle of things and messing up back-room deals!
It is often the case that big, multi-billion dollar spending programs come out of such backroom deals. Big businesses who stand to profit from the massive government spending plans give money to the politicians. The politicians vote for the spending, but they make sure that only union members get any of the associated jobs.
Everyone wins-except the taxpayers, of course. Oh yes-the projected costs of projects, in the billions, are always well short of actual spending, and the projects take infinitely longer to complete than promised. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Perhaps knowing that a deal has to come to a vote of the people, will force politicians to provide real costs, real timelines, and answers to tough questions. These sorts of details are inconvenient-and for now, unnecessary when the major objective of deal makers is just getting the billions borrowed, and spent!
Proponents of the "Stop Blank Checks" initiative say that if the voters are going to have to foot the bill, they should have a say. They are also quick to point out that this measure is not in response to any particular project-that it is designed to simply let the voters have input into big statewide projects that they will be paying for.
It would, however, apply to two current statewide projects: the Delta Tunnels and the High Speed Rail (though the Cortopassis have been vocal critics of Governor Brown's delta tunnel play).
The opponents of the measure, including now the well-connected California Chamber of Commerce (see the reference to "big businesses" in paragraph four above), can't win the argument on the merits. So, they point to a plethora of falsehoods to make their case.
They say that it will limit local governments' abilities to construct things like water storage or the University of California's plans build new projects.
Not true. The measure does not pertain to local governments or the UC system.
They say it will hamper emergency relief efforts after disasters.
Again, not true. Revenue bonds are not used to fund disaster responses.
They say it will hurt the state's ability to create infrastructure.
Wrong again. It will, however, hamper the state's ability to create poorly-thought-out, overpriced, half-baked infrastructure. And it will bring the voters in on a process from which the politicians and insiders are happy to leave them out. (Oh, but their wallets are of course welcome).
It's no surprise that local chambers of commerce throughout the state who understand the needs of real people and business owners (and who are further from the power players in Sacramento) are warming to the proposal.
Despite Governor Brown's apparent desire to work with the voters, and his repeated insistence over the years that there should be "no new taxes without voter approval," he seems to be straying from his commitment to include the voters when it comes to costly endeavors.
At a public "hearing" about the Delta Tunnels this week, many who attended left feeling frustrated that there was no opportunity to express their concerns about the project and how it will impact them and their communities.
Message received: "Critics Not Welcome."
The sad fact is, right now politicians have unlimited blank checks with voters' pocketbooks. Californians will pay for all these big projects for years to come, so we should have a say.
There will be millions and millions of dollars spent by labor unions, big business, and other special interests to try and stop this measure from passing. And look for Attorney General Kamala Harris, ever the patsy of the unions, to give the measure an unfavorable title and summary.
Still, I think it is an uphill battle to convince the voters that they should exclude themselves from the decision-making process in these massive projects.