California’s legislative hypocrisy a failure of democracy
(Here is an interesting editorial from the Washington Post first printed June 6, 2011. The DR staff thought that with November elections around the corner, the integrity of our vote is more important than ever. Vote for those that will represent us, not rule us….)
The California state Senate voted 28-8 Wednesday to exempt itself from the pointless gun-control laws that apply to the rest of the populace. Legislators apparently think they alone are worthy to pack heat on the streets for personal protection, and the masses ought to wait until the police arrive.
This is just one of many bills Golden State politicians used this legislative session to set themselves apart from the little people, the ones who pay their inflated salaries. Annual compensation for legislators averages about $140,000, not counting luxurious perks such as taxpayer-funded cars and free gasoline. By comparison, the average Californian earns $50,000 a year, and the unemployment rate is 11.9 percent – far above the national average. Exact salaries for state assemblymen and senators are obscured by the use of a “per diem” payment scheme that shelters a significant chunk of income from taxation.
Attempts by a handful of reformers to require politicians to provide a full annual disclosure of the benefits received from the public treasury have been rebuffed. Currently, government officials must file a statement of economic interests revealing income from any source other than a local, state or federal government agency. Gifts worth more than $50 also must be disclosed, but lawmakers rejected a bill that would have prohibited acceptance of concert and sporting event tickets, gift cards, spa treatments, golf outings and other benefits from lobbyists trying to buy votes.
Bills of this nature never meet an honest fate in which roll-call votes put members on the record as favoring or opposing each idea. Instead, reform measures are held in committee to die quietly as legislative deadlines pass. As of last week, it’s effectively impossible for a bill to become law if it hasn’t already passed in at least one of the chambers.
Such a silent death sentence was imposed on a bill that would have eliminated the practice of allowing select public employees to avoid paying red-light-camera tickets and escape any consequence for using toll roads without paying. The current system grants free rides to politicians, court workers, police officers, city council members, social workers, meter maids and their spouses. The bill failed even after a compromise amendment deleted the requirement to pay red-light-camera tickets.
The arrogance of the political class is certainly not limited to California. Federal law prohibits private companies from pestering the public with unwanted telemarketing calls from businesses, but Congress exempted “political organizations” – i.e., themselves – from its provisions. In Sacramento, an attempt failed to establish a special Do Not Call list for people who don’t want to listen to automated calls from California pols.
Left coast politicians lack all shame regarding their self-enrichment at public expense. Even though their outrageous conduct has sunk a once-prosperous state $10 billion in debt, the public seems not to care. In November, voters recycled Jerry Brown as governor even though Gov. Moonbeam’s disastrous tenure during the 1970s enabled the compensation packages for a unionized public sector that are busting the budget today. When California finally goes bankrupt, voters need only look in the mirror when wondering who deserves the blame.