In the Manhattan Institute's City Journal: California
, Steven Greenhut
offers an important essay in support of Governor Jerry Brown's plan to eliminate California's redevelopment agencies (RDAs). In that essay, Greenhut recounts the patterns of abuse that have characterized the activities of these agencies and also offers numerous examples of corruption typified by cronyism and sweetheart deals. In other words, RDAs offer all the things liberty loving Americans have come to know and loathe about government programs.
It should not be imagined, however, that California Democrats are suddenly stumbling upon a revelation combined with a conscience on this front. When it comes to the many ways that government programs and funds can often foster abuse, Brown and his friends remain deaf to arguments for eliminating them. Brown's desire to eliminate the RDAs is merely a part of his (otherwise farcical) plans to take charge of California's budgetary woes (woes he and his party
have, of course, largely created).
While no political ally of Brown's, Greenhut shows
that he may be even more annoyed with a particular kind
--at least when it comes to the question of the RDAs. Republicans, you see, are leading the charge at blocking Brown's efforts to eliminate the RDAs. While happy to decry property rights abuses and aggressive exercises of
eminent domain when those outrages loom large in the popular imagination (viz
decision), these Republicans have
also been happy to overlook the potential for those abuses in their own
communities. This is particularly true when standing upon the principle of property rights
means a decrease or an end to the RDA dollars upon which many local
governments have become dependent. And, as local governments struggle, there is even greater temptation to lust after the power of eminent domain for the purpose of bringing into a community businesses perceived as having more potential to generate sales tax revenue for a particular city. You've got to make payroll somehow. So there is principle and there is interest. When government intervenes to make interest look even more attractive than it already is, some Republicans too readily turn their heads.
The arguments of these Republicans
on behalf of RDAs begin to resemble the most frustrating elements of
efforts to improve public schools: "Our
schools are great!" or "Our
is not abusive." It's always somebody else's community that is the
problem . . . until it isn't.
Republicans who are now engaged in this unseemly whining about cutting RDAs are not simply wrong to be concerned, however. There is the very real problem that local governments in California--now virtually dependent upon RDA money for balancing their books--are going to take a large hit. They certainly will. But this fact alone does not mean that the RDAs should be preserved. This fact, instead of causing folks to moan and grasp at the state coffers with even more animation, should cause them to demand a complete re-evaluation of the purposes and powers of local government entities and for more carefully defining the limits of the state's. That means hard work at persuading voters and standing upon principle; something Republicans cannot do effectively if they engage in this kind of rhetorical hypocrisy. Perhaps too many California Republicans are so beat down and tired from a half century of near total Democratic domination in the statehouse, that they can't summon the will to fight on principle anymore. If that is the case, it is time for them to pack it in. This is work that must be done if California is to remain the Golden State. They cannot expect ever to win the larger argument if they too readily give in on specific aspects of it in the name of petty interests now.
It may very well be true that this effort is a cynical ploy on the part of Gov. Brown to make the public feel the pain of necessary cuts; to damage municipal government entities just enough to spread the misery and make people more pliable on the question of tax hikes. Hit them where they live, and such. Whatever the motive, however, the substance deserves applause. And instead of hiding in a foxhole, Republicans should be leading this charge and taking the issue right back at Jerry.