These are tough times in California. Social services, education and basic services like police and fire departments are looking at another round of cutbacks as the latest budget proposal (2011) makes it way through the legislature. Proposition 22, “The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety, and Transportation Protection Act”, seeks to constitutionally protect monies normally set aside for “funds that are allocated to local government, public safety, and transportation”. Gosh, it sounds okay, doesn’t it?
Beware, dear voters, for hidden under the sheepskin-ish language of Proposition 22 is a wolf waiting to devour the very funding that it claims to protect. Future budgets in California will be locked in to hard choices like raising taxes or whacking another $1.4 billion from education funding. The fine print in this initiative cynically carves out set-asides for special interests at the expense of taxpayers and public services. These set-asides are to be used to subsidize developers via redevelopment agencies.
Unelected and unaccountable, these agencies dole out lucrative taxpayer funding to developers for auto malls, hotels and stadiums. In California, 12% of property tax dollars are diverted into these agencies – $6 billion is earmarked for developers. So, if you think subsidizing a new stadium for the Chargers is a better use of taxpayer dollars than schools, police, fire services or the poor, then you probably should like Proposition 22.
Redevelopment agencies were originally created to cure urban blight and then be abolished. They were never intended to be a permanent drain on public services, nor a cash cow for private interests. As we’ve seen in San Diego, these agencies don’t go away. Ever. And, all too often, they’re nothing more than fronts for greedy land developers seeking taxpayer guarantees for unsustainable projects. We have a sea of empty hotels sitting around downtown that prove that point.
Proposition 22 will constitutionally guarantee the worst abuses of redevelopment agencies. They now have statewide debt now topping $93 billion and continue to sell bonds without voter approval. Proposition 22 locks in this abuse, making it impossible for the legislature to reform the worst abuses of redevelopment agencies.
Tucked away, under the fancy language, there is a kernel of truth to the situation that Proposition 22 claims to address. County and city governments have good cause to be upset with the many raids the Legislature has made on local revenues to balance the state budget. And California voters deserve better state fiscal policies. Fundamental reforms do need to be made. But the likes of Proposition 22 are not the solution. One special interest group is helping itself here.