California Republicans love to talk about limiting government, fighting bureaucracy and keeping taxes low, but March 17 they proved that this is nothing more than a rhetorical device. Given the opportunity to rein in the size and power of government in a tangible way, Assembly Republicans – with a sole exception – punted. They rallied to save some of the most abusive and wastrel government agencies around.
California voters ought to at least understand where the overwhelming majority of GOP Assembly members stand – in this instance, on the side of big government, higher taxes and uncontrolled debt and against property rights, individualism and freedom. As the party blathers about luring minority and working-class voters, let it be clear that the GOP sided with the developers and government planners, folks who usually want to drive minorities and working-class people off their properties.
The Democrats, awful as they usually are, may be right: The GOP is the party of big business and privilege.
As part of the governor’s budget package, the Assembly voted on Senate Bill 77, which would have ended the state’s 400-plus redevelopment agencies. But only longtime redevelopment foe, Chris Norby of Fullerton, sided with taxpayers and property owners. Other Assembly Republicans voted “no” or didn’t vote at all.
Had even one of the Republicans joined Norby and the Democrats, the bill would have passed with a two-thirds majority. At press time, the voting roll remained open, but it didn’t look good for foes of redevelopment.
Republicans, far in the minority in the Legislature, may celebrate that they stopped Gov. Jerry Brown on this one issue. But they stopped Brown in one of the few areas where he was right. What’s the sense in that?
Redevelopment was started decades ago to upgrade decrepit urban areas, but in the ensuing years the state’s now-nearly 400 active redevelopment agencies have become horrific abusers of eminent domain. They routinely take private property from homeowners and small business owners and give it to developers on the cheap. Redevelopment agencies subsidize big-box stores and auto malls — it’s about luring sales taxes, not about upgrading blight. Government officials don’t care whose rights they erode in the process of gaining more money for government.
Brown has targeted Redevelopment agencies because they divert 12 percent of the state’s property taxes from traditional public services (schools, police, parks and firefighting) to corporate welfare. He figures the state can save about $1.7 billion as he seeks to close a gaping $26.6 billion budget hole. This should have been a no-brainer with any Republican with a brain. But the California GOP is the party of numbskulls.
Redevelopment is about everything Republicans claim to loath: bureaucracy, debt, abuses of property rights, big government, oppressive land-use rules, subsidized housing and fiscal irresponsibility. In California cities, redevelopment bureaucrats bully people and impose enormous burdens on taxpayers. The diversion of tax dollars to welfare queens mandates higher taxes, but the GOP sided with the redevelopment industry. They sided with agencies that run up hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed indebtedness. They sided with government-directed stimulus programs, albeit local ones rather than federal ones.
Some Republicans sided with redevelopment because of their support for some favored local development projects. Others acted out of pure partisanship. Most Republicans offered lame excuses. For instance, they argued that if redevelopment agencies were shut down, something new and equally bad would take its place. That’s an absurd argument. They might as well oppose tax cuts by arguing that the government will just find other ways to raise the revenue.
The truth is that California Republicans do not believe in limited government. They do not stand up for property owners. They are the party of corporate welfare. They oppose higher taxes, but that’s the only guiding principle of the party these days. And even that commitment is suspect. Many Assembly Republicans, such as the pro-union members who attended a rally against budget cuts hosted by the SEIU (Jim Silva of Huntington Beach, Brian Nestande and Paul Cook), vote in a way that virtually mandates higher taxes at some point. Then they get on their high horse and sign those bogus tax-fighting pledges. And you wonder why the GOP is fading away in this state?
After watching the Assembly GOP vote on redevelopment, we can conclude that their claims about demanding pension reform and spending caps also are bogus. They will never provide the margin of victory on these matters, either. When push comes to shove, they will be bought off again and will offer similar excuses for why they really support reform but just couldn’t vote for it this time. Yet Republicans wonder why they have been relegated to irrelevancy, the laughingstocks of the California political world. Sure, they usually are better than Democrats, but they offer no cohesive and believable alternative to the Party of Unions.
The Chamber of Commerce also loves redevelopment, and redevelopment is a core issue. Anyone who supports it cannot claim to be a conservative, not if the term conservative has any meaning. It is the epitome of bad public policy, in that it gives governmental powers to the most powerful and politically well-connected players at the expense of the average citizen.
Ironically, the Democrats claimed to love redevelopment, but voted to end the agencies as a way to save money. Republicans often criticized the redevelopment process, but then rallied the troops to save it.
So most Assembly Republicans are clear: They love Obama-style stimulus programs and corporate welfare. They trust planners and bureaucrats rather than the free market. They support higher taxes and more debt. And they believe that the government should be free to use eminent domain to take property from private owners and give that property to powerful private interests.
Let’s at least dispense with all the rhetoric. The party that saved redevelopment is no friend of the California taxpayer.