Proposition 29: Promotes Dishonest Government Spending

by Julian Canete President & CEO – CHCC
This June, lawmakers in Sacramento must pass our annual state budget. As in recent years, the picture is bleak. Schools and other vital community services have already faced billions of dollars in cuts, but more cuts appear likely, according to the governor’s proposed budget. And our state still faces a $10+ billion budget deficit, not to mention high unemployment of 11 percent.
Also in June, Californians will have an opportunity to vote on a statewide ballot measure that impacts our state’s spending: Proposition 29. This flawed measure would raise taxes on all tobacco consumers by $735 million a year to create a new unaccountable research commission packed with political appointees who can spend our tax dollars outside the state.
Prop. 29 may sound well intentioned; certainly, we all support cancer research. But this flawed proposal would lock into law a new billion-dollar bureaucracy that lacks the accountability and fiscal controls to ensure our tax dollars are being spent wisely. It also fails to put a single penny towards ensuring California’s kids – more than half of whom are Latino – have the education and skills they need to be successful.
To be clear, Prop. 29 doesn’t just ignore education – it very deliberately circumvents education funding requirements that voters passed to ensure that approximately 40 percent of all tax dollars go to our schools. As a result, Prop. 29 shortchanges our kids more than $300 million each and every year. That’s more than $1,200 for every classroom in California – money that could buy books, much-needed supplies and even computers for our students. It could even be used to hire approximately 7,900 teachers.
This flawed measure hurts our communities in other ways, too. Right now, one in 10 Californians is out of work. Yet Prop. 29 allows our tax dollars to be spent outside California and even outside the country. If we’re going to raise taxes in California, that money should be spent here, investing in our state’s economy and putting people in our communities back to work.
Instead of helping fund vital programs already on the books, Prop. 29 creates another unaccountable bureaucracy that duplicates existing programs. California spends $70 million each year on tobacco control programs, and the federal government spends $6 billion annually on cancer research. Especially in these tough times, our government should be focused on streamlining programs – not duplicating them.
Prop. 29 creates a nine-member commission filled with political appointees who can spend $110 million a year on buildings and real estate, and another $15 million on bureaucratic overhead, such as salaries, conventions, travel and consultants. That includes money toward a hefty salary for the commission’s CEO, who is exempt from normal hiring and salary restrictions. And the organizations represented by these political appointees will be eligible for millions of dollars in government grants – a clear conflict of interest.
Most outrageous of all, under Prop. 29, taxpayers will simply have to trust that the bureaucrats and political appointees managing billions of taxpayer dollars are doing so efficiently and effectively, since the only report on the commission will be written by the commission itself. Not even the governor or Legislature has any independent oversight.  Furthermore, Prop. 29 includes specific language prohibiting any changes to the measure for 15 years, leaving the new commission vulnerable to waste and abuse.
We’ve seen what can happen when we give political appointees unchecked authority over billions of taxpayer dollars; previous ballot-box measures like the high-speed rail, First 5 and stem-cell research commissions serve as cautionary tales. A half-million-dollar salary for one commission’s CEO. Conflicts of interest and a lack of competitive bidding. Yet, Prop. 29 repeats many of these same mistakes.
On its surface, Prop. 29 may seem well intentioned. But come June 5, voters must cast a vote on the measure as currently written – its flaws, lack of accountability and conflicts of interest, included. And the truth of the matter is that California simply can’t afford to establish another government program the promotes bureaucracy with no accountability.

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