Extraneous Spending: Not Half As Fun As A Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

Like a spare peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the California government has spread itself too thin.

That is where the similarities stop, as the aforementioned sandwich is a much more delightful subject than the state government, which appeared to be twiddling its thumbs while February 1 approached. Yes, February 1, 2009: the boogey day, named by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger as that magic point at which the state will basically be broke… not that the state wasn’t already heading that way, anyway…. it’s just that the economic forecasters predicted that by that time, if action hadn’t been taken, California would have run out of money. Welcome to February, guys!

Unfortunately, state leaders don’t exactly have the best example set for them, as only on Friday, after the announcement of a government-sponsored $819,000,000,000 stimulus plan (with interest, to go above $1,000,000,000,000), President Obama announced another $20,300,000 to be sent to Gaza. (For the sake of effect, I’ve written out these numbers with zeros included.) Yes, despite our own hard-felt economic woes, the loss of domestic homes and jobs, the federal government finds ways to send million of dollars to Gaza, to be funneled under the auspices of a morally-questioned U.N. According to the State Department, $14,3000,000 of that will go directly to U.N. organizations, with the remaining $6,000,000 going to the Red Cross.

So long as state leaders continue to focus on more trivial matters, rather than the most pressing matters at hand, nothing will get fixed. Neither Republican nor Democrat is to blame: everyone is, all parties included. As state lawmakers refuse to come to a consensus on a solution, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still hitting the campaign circuit, stumping for pie-in-the-sky environmental regulations, which many pundits agree will serve to cripple automotive companies: no one tells a Californian what kind of car they can drive. At the same time, the governor’s web page keeps a running tally of the “Legislature’s Failure To Act” (of which it is day 92), and the worsening budget, which is currently listed at an ever changing rate, currently just below $9 billion.

Let’s focus on what could and should be done to get out of the current situation we Californians find ourselves in. Let’s pull up our sleeves and get to work!

Looking over California’s Comparative Statement of Expenditures, it is absolutely staggering to see just how much our state spends on seemingly trivial and wastrel-enhanced ventures. In 2007-2009, the state spent $9,549,000 on the “Gambling Control Commission.” The next year, that price tag had increased nearly five-fold to $48,670,000. The estimate for 2009-2010, though lower than the previous year’s, still come in at a whopping $13,229,000. The state is spending more than $13 million on gambling control, while state employees are in danger of not receiving paychecks? Come on. The “Industrial Development Financing Advisory Committee” is expected to receive $282,000. Really, guys, really? The Tax Credit Allocation Committee is poised to get $4,714,000, but if residents will be receiving tax refund IOUs, what’s the point? Save nearly $5,000,000 by putting those funds on hold, and earn the interest in a bank. The “Department of General Services” is looking to earn over $200,000,000 next year. Are all of those funds really necessary for “General Services”? Aren’t the financially-strapped UCs and CSUs pretty much generally in need, too?

The Department of Real Estate is set to receive $44,906,000 in 2009-2010. Isn’t that a bit ironic, considering how poorly the real estate market has been performing? $963,302,000 has been carved out for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Yes, one of the most dreaded of the governmental operations, will be receiving nearly $1,000,000,000 next year. If so much money is going to be paid by a state that is already about $42,000,000,000 in debt, shouldn’t there be some form of accountability, “strings attached,” if you will? Even a fraction of this amount, if squirreled away in a bank account for one year, would make quite a bit of extra money for our dear and broke state. The Tahoe Conservancy has $5,458,000 with its name on it. The Baldwin Hills Conservancy is set to receive between $339,000 and $3,622,000 while the San Gabriel/Lower LA River/Mtns Conservancy will be given between $373,000 and $13,161,000. “Environmental Protection” gets $10,260,000. Exactly where does that money go, and to what? Incredibly, state lawmakers are still ready to give the “Air Resources Board” an astounding $607,750,000!

$2,041,000 will be given for the “Apportionment of Geothermal Rsrcs Dvlp.” Ok, maybe this one is a keeper, if it all goes towards finding new forms of energy. More accountability and openness in the spending of taxpayer dollars would go a long way in this state.

Outrageously, $347,746,000 has been marked for the “Energy Resource Conservation/Dvlmt Comm,” whatever that means. Yes, readers, state lawmakers are still ok with handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to lofty ideals, in one of the worst budget crunches in the state’s history. If this money was instead taken and put towards more urgent causes and pressing needs, including those of the colleges, imagine how much more productive the state could be.

For K-12 education, the state will spend $40,736,446,000. Education is very important, but it is silly to give educators carte blanche when the quality of education does not appear to be increasing. As many have said before, throwing money at a problem is not the same as solving it.

Only $4,989,953,000 has been carved out for the Board of Governors of the Community Colleges, which is ironically, only a fraction of what is being given to K-12. $3,304,441,000 is being given to the University of California system, despite its being one of the best college systems in the world. Even less, $3,014,703,000 will be given to the California State University system by the state government, again, despite the success of the CSU system. The total expected combined expenditures for the UC, CSU and “other” college systems is $53,824,564,000. The Commission on the Status of Women will receive $489,000 in 2009-2010. Again, really? Do we really need that this particular fiscal year? Most ironically, $444,578,000 will be spent on (are you ready?) “Tax Relief”! Here’s a better idea for tax relief: the ending of trivial, more-fun-than-necessary spending, during a huge budget crisis.

For more hilarity and frivolous budget spending, go here to see an online listing of our state government expenditures. At the least, some of the more extraneous expenditures should be spent on more worthy and pressing projects, including university upgrades and student financial aid. Just because we cut certain spending programs in a budget crunch, does not mean they can never come back. However, California legislators need to get serious about the budget and honestly draw a line between what is needed and what is desired.