The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association is not afraid of its mission.
Named for the chief architect of California’s Proposition 13 property tax limit, the organization fiercely defends Jarvis’s landmark 1978 measure against those – public employee unions, in individual – who are calling for its repeal.
So far, Jarvis and his allied groups have prevailed for more than four decades, most recently pushing back against a 2020 ballot measure that would have removed some of Proposition 13’s limits on commercial ownership.
But HJTA, as it calls itself, is also working on a broader front, opposing most non-property tax increases and criticizing what it sees as a waste of taxpayers’ money. This latest effort includes an annual report on “waste, fraud and abuse” – essentially a summary of reports from news outlets and independent watchdogs such as the state auditor.
This year’s version, titled “Follow the Money 2021,” contains dozens of examples of how public funds have been wasted, misappropriated, or otherwise diverted, as well as situations, according to HJTA, that show politicians benefiting. of special treatment.
One could quibble with some of the examples, but overall they indicate that taxpayers often don’t get the value for their money as they should.
So, one wonders, how does California compare to other states in this regard?
Coincidentally, as HJTA was preparing its report, an organization called Wallet Hub offered an answer.
In March, Wallet Hub, a consumer finance website, released a study on what it calls “return on investment,” merging tax burdens with service quality to develop an index that compares states on the efficiency with which they spend public funds.
Factors included in the service side of the equation include schools, roads, hospitals, crime, water quality, and poverty. Minnesota is rated as having the best services.
Unfortunately – but perhaps unsurprisingly – California does not fare well in its “return on investment” score. In fact, it’s fourth worst overall, just ahead of Hawaii, New Mexico and North Dakota. New Hampshire scores the highest, followed by Florida and South Dakota.
In services, California ranks 34th, but its tax burden, one of the highest in the country, lowers its overall “return on investment” score. Incidentally, rival Texas has the seventh highest yield.
The HJTA report and Wallet Hub comparison highlight an irritating aspect of governance in California – politicians’ eagerness to create new projects and services and their reluctance to assess whether their favorite programs are delivering the promised results and to step in when they do. they are not up to par.
One of the cases cited by HJTA, a high-tech budget tool called FI$cal, is a prime example of the syndrome. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on FI$cal over the past decade and a half and it still doesn’t work. The state auditor has released 18 reports criticizing the project’s management and performance, but governors and lawmakers continue to throw money down the drain.
Many other examples are evident, some particular projects such as FI$cal and some broader issues such as homelessness. It’s very close to the top of voters’ concerns as measured in the polls and California taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on it. However, the problem seems to be getting more and more acute as politicians and supposed experts debate what might work.
Politicians think their career depends on offering new services and facilities and promising marvelous results, while oversight and management lack political sex appeal. Ultimately, however, voters will become embittered if they conclude that they are not getting their money’s worth, as the HJTA report and the Wallet Hub study suggest.