July 21, 2010

PLF on radio: Cal. Constitution protects taxpayers — if courts will let it

By PLF on radio: Cal. Constitution protects taxpayers — if courts will let it

Author: Harold Johnson

My thanks to San Diego radio/newspaper commentator Chris Reed, who invited me on his show the other night (KOGO am 600), to discuss the high-profile lawsuit against rich, retroactive pension hikes for Orange County's amply fed public safety employees. 

The conversation, lasting about 10 minutes, is now archived on KOGO's site (starting at 17:28 into the segment).

The point I tried to drive home:  With the state and local governments dog-paddling in red ink, we must revive the California Constitution's neglected barriers to reckless spending and crippling debt.   

The constitutional safeguard at issue in the Orange County case is Article XVI, Section 18.  This is the "right to vote mandate," as PLF calls it in the amicus brief we submitted along with the Fullerton Association of Concerned Taxpayers.

Section 18 says voters must approve — by a super-majority — before a local government can encumber taxpayers with a longterm "indebtedness or liability" (such as, we argue, the $100 million liability imposed on taxpayers the split second that the retroactive pension giveaway took effect, lavishing new pension promises on lucky employees for service already completed under previously agreed-to pay and benefit terms).   

Courts have bobbed and weaved over the years to avoid giving full and consistent effect to Section 18's right-to-vote-on-debt guarantee.   We can no longer afford such judicial activism.   We don't have the luxury to treat Section 18 and similar constitutional guarantors of fiscal sobriety as museum pieces.  They must be treated seriously, and vigorously deployed if California hopes for an off-ramp from the road to insolvency.

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