Drawing comparisons between Richmond, California and local municipalities, Brian Goebel builds on the Los Angeles Times’ series on “California’s Pension Crisis” to argue in a Post on 2040matters.com that Santa Barbara area governments must take steps today to mitigate the many adverse consequences of exploding pension contributions.
Using its own novel model for assessing a county’s economic wellness, Reason in Government reviews relevant data and then grades the economic health and vitality of Santa Barbara County. This Report reveals that Santa Barbara County’s economy is not well, receiving an overall grade of “D+”. Notwithstanding a handful of positive trends, the County’s unemployment rate is high by historical standards, its poverty rate is high by any standard, its public finances are weakening at all levels of government, its high-paying jobs are in short-supply, and its lack of housing impedes economic growth. This Report contains several recommendations for actions that our elected officials, voters, business community, investors, and philanthropists should take in the near-term to improve our economic wellness and improve the quality of life in our County.
VIEW REPORT CARD
As we enter the holiday season with the “Trump bump” in the stock market and a steady stream of accolades for President Obama’s economic stewardship in light of our declining unemployment rate, it is important to consider whether Santa Barbara County is on sound financial footing. History has taught us (repeatedly, unfortunately) that overly optimistic economic predictions can lead to poor policy choices that, in turn, have disastrous impacts on our public finances and quality of life. Misplaced economic optimism has, for example, caused our public employee pension costs to soar over the past two decades. This enormous expense – well over $100m a year – has, in turn, eroded funding for our parks, roads, and government buildings, contributing to an unfunded deferred maintenance backlog of well over $300m.
Reason in Government assesses the Propositions on the November ballot in light of its view that voters should be reluctant to approve Propositions in most cases because they undermine the virtues of the legislative process.
Reason in Government grades all California Legislators on their radical centrism by examining their voting histories over four years, including legislation passed at the end of the current legislative session. This unprecedented effort to identify reasoned centrists in Sacramento includes surprising findings and novel insights regarding the voting behavior of California’s legislators. It is intended to educate voters and spark debate on the contours of centrism with a point of view as well as the need for government reform across California.
Seeking to avoid additional scrutiny of the high-speed rail project he has championed, Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have increased legislative oversight over the project. Reason in Government scored the bill favorably in our Legislator Scorecard. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the veto is a disservice to California taxpayers who must continue to foot the bill for an expensive project that will, if completed, provide minimal environmental and transportation benefits (at best).
The LA Times recently urged voters to reject Proposition 55, which would extend the supposedly temporary sales and income tax increases enacted through Proposition 30. Not only does the proposed 12 year extension make a mockery of the previous promise that these tax increases would be temporary, but as the LA Times argues convincingly, it relieves the Legislature of any responsibility for devising tax reform designed to promote growth, collect needed revenue, and reduce the State’s vulnerability to volatility in the stock market. This Proposition, like many others, begs the question: “What do we send legislators to Sacramento to do?”
Claiming that the Department of Conservation and State Lands Commission should have the primary responsibility for identifying and remediating leaking oil wells along the California Coast, Governor Brown vetoed a bill sponsored by Senator Jackson that would have spurred funding to cap leaking wells in Summerland and elsewhere along the coast. Noozhawk flagged the veto earlier this week. Even if he is right that existing State agencies have the authority and responsibility to identify and remediate leaking oil wells along our coast, Governor Brown’s belated direction that these agencies do their jobs does nothing for the residents of Summerland and begs the question: “What have these agencies been doing for the last decade as oil has consistently leaked onto Summerland Beach from the long-abandoned Becker Well?”