Steven Greenhut: Is California’s ‘Third Rail’ Still the Kiss of Death?

A union official was once reportedly asked what exactly it was that he wanted. The questioner was not talking about the goal in some particular political battle, but the end game. The union guy’s answer is one that anyone who “negotiates” with California’s voracious public-sector unions needs to keep in mind. What is it you ultimately want? The answer: “More.” That same answer could be offered by the Democratic leaders who run our state.

Session after session, California’s leaders find new taxes to raise. There’s never enough money to pay for all the social programs they desire — not just for the citizenry, but for anyone who might happen to be here legally or otherwise. Indeed, the single-payer healthcare proposal that actually passed the state Senate would have crushed the entire state budget, even by the Legislature’s own analysis. Any resident would be entitled to “free” medical care even if they wandered here last week. This would certainly have provided a new spin on the term “medical tourism.”

Someone needs to pay for this. And someone also needs to pay for all those six-figure public-employee salaries, pensions, and pension-spiking gimmicks. Someone needs to pay for throngs of highly paid Caltrans workers who, according to a state audit, have little to do. Someone also has to pay for a needless $68-billion high-speed rail system and that needless $17 billion project to bore twin tunnels underneath the California Delta and that needless mini state-based Social Security system that’s meant to deal with the common folks’ “pension envy.” (I know, legislators promise that the latter won’t burden taxpayers.) That someone is, of course, us.

California already has some of the highest tax rates in every conceivable category. We also have some of the very worst public services in the country, but that would never cause anyone in charge to say, “Hmm, I wonder why that’s so. Maybe more money won’t improve our roads and schools.” But such a statement would require the public official to believe that the purpose of all that spending is to actually provide public services. They just want more.

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