May 26, 2020

By Assemblyman Vince Fong

As California currently faces one of its largest-ever state budget deficits, Governor Newsom and Sacramento Democrats must get serious about making meaningful reductions in unnecessary state expenditures while also preserving funding for education, public health, and economic opportunity. We must do everything possible to create a stable and safe environment in which Californians can return to work as quickly as possible and struggling small businesses can reopen and rehire. In order to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, the legislature must be willing to immediately cut nonessential, duplicative, and wasteful state programs that will curve unnecessary expenditures while still preserving funds to keep teachers employed, support first responders, and help impacted individuals and businesses recover from this pandemic.

Here are the five most pressing items that the legislature should cut in this year’s state budget:

Eliminate High Speed Rail: In 2008, California voters were told that the state could build a High Speed Rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles for $20 billion. Today, the project has been redesigned as a commuter line between Merced and Bakersfield that is estimated to cost taxpayers nearly five times as originally promised. Burdened by cost overruns, massive delays, and administrative mismanagement, California High Speed Rail does not remotely resemble the promises made to voters in 2008 and should be scrapped immediately. We cannot afford to continue funding this misgoverned project when the jobs of thousands of hardworking teachers and first responders depend on these limited government resources. Eliminating the High Speed Rail would allow the state to repurpose $500 to $750 million annually on high priority programs and workers, as well as $2.3 billion in unspent project reserves.

Crackdown on Misuse of Taxpayer Dollars by State Agencies: Over the past few years, numerous instances of misused taxpayer funds have been uncovered by the State Auditor’s Office and journalists. Since 2018, they have collectively reported over $9.5 billion in misused funds or unscrupulous expenditures by the state’s agencies. For example, because of a lack of enforcement of California’s vacation time cap for public employees, state workers have accrued an estimated $3.5 billion in improperly acquired unused leave. In addition, California continues wasting millions of dollars on legal fees to argue against the federal government’s decision to provide more water to California farmers and families. By cracking down on the misuse of taxpayer dollars by the state, we can prevent unnecessary budget cuts and help fund crucial programs that will help Californians impacted by this pandemic.

Refocus Transportation Funding to Improve Highway Infrastructure and Traffic Congestion: The state can achieve significant cost savings by requiring that funds from the gas tax (SB 1) that Sacramento Democrats enacted in 2017, go towards relieving traffic congestion and the improvement of our crumbling roads and highway infrastructure. Currently, roughly $1 billion of the approximately $5 billion collected annually through the state’s gas tax, are being spent on painting bike lanes, pedestrian walkways, and other projects that don’t actually improve the conditions of our roads nor alleviate traffic congestion. Now more than ever, Sacramento needs to prioritize tax dollars for the most critical needs facing our state.

Postpone Implementation of AB 5: Earlier this year, Sacramento Democrats enacted AB 5, which imposes a one-size fits all regulation dictating who can work as an independent contractor and freelancer and who must be considered an employee. This disastrous attempt by Sacramento to micromanage the career decisions of California workers has unfortunately threatened the livelihood of thousands of individuals across the state. It is unconscionable that Democrats in Sacramento believe it to be within their power to limit the ability of Californians to work as they see fit. With record high unemployment, Californians need as much access to job flexibility as possible. For thousands of Californians struggling to pay bills, the ability to supplement their income by driving for Uber, writing freelanced articles, or teaching classes online would help them avoid financial ruin. To make matters worse, Governor Newsom plans to allocate $20 million to enforce this burdensome law. In order to preserve the personal income of thousands of freelancers and to repurpose this desperately needed revenue, the state should at the very least postpone the enforcement of AB 5 and start considering necessary exemptions for essential workers.

Consolidate the Department of Technology: In light of the state’s long list of very expensive and failed IT projects, the newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom announced the creation of a new “Office of Digital Innovation” to help the state better manage its various IT projects. The only problem is that there is already a California Department of Technology, whose core mission is seemingly the same as that of the new Office of Digital Innovation. This redundancy adds further administrative confusion through the duplication of personnel, roles, and layers of bureaucracy. It also contributes nearly $15 million in reoccurring expenses. We need to consolidate these entities to achieve millions of dollars in annual savings that can be re-allocated elsewhere in our state’s budget. There is no doubt that the state is in dire need of modernizing its technology infrastructure, but creating redundant bureaucracy is not the way to do it.

Budgets reflect priorities. There is no doubt that our state budget must allocate taxpayer resources efficiently and prioritize programs that can help us recover from this pandemic: those that educate our kids, help businesses start rehiring and individuals to find jobs, and bolster the efforts of first responders. We cannot let Governor Newsom and Sacramento Democrats threaten these vulnerable programs with severe budget cuts while at the same time maintaining wasteful government measures like the five outlined above. Cutting these measures would permit roughly $12 billion to help protect programs supporting public education, public safety, and economic opportunity. We can and must do better.