The fly—and the elephant—in the realignment soup

Joel Fox, editor over at Fox & Hounds Daily and godfather of the professional defenders of Prop 13, is warning about “The Fly in the Realignment Soup” of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget. Yes, voters tend to be more friendly to local than to state government, he writes. “But given the outbreak of scandal and questionable judgment exhibited by local officials and reported across the state, the governor may face an unexpected hurdle in selling his realignment plan,” which would transfer more authority from Sacramento to local government.

The fly in the soup is real. The least justifiable public spending in California happens at the local level. Strange, though, that Fox fails to notice the elephant it rode in on: the unintended and unworkable operating system created by Prop 13.

Local governments everywhere have their share of scandal and wasteful spending. But as we show in California Crackup, Prop 13 makes California even more vulnerable to those things. Shorn of their taxing power, local governments ceased to be of much concern to business and taxpayer advocates. That has left local politics to those more interested in grabbing a piece of the spending. And because local elected officials are spending tax revenue they don’t have any political or legal responsibility for raising, they are less careful about how it is used. It’s always easier to waste somebody else’s money.

The scandals that Fox cites, from the City of Bell to Vallejo, have their roots in a system he helped create and now ardently defends. There will be flies in the soup until the elephant is taken away.