Prop 13 helped control spending

Peter Nilsen’ March 26 letter can be a great start to a very long discussion.

I was somewhat involved in the whole “Proposition 13” thing in California. I worked for a city government at the time and I can assure every reader that every city, county, and state government was absolutely petrified about the measure being passed by the voters. The agency where I was employed explained to all the employees that the agency was not permitted to spend any taxpayer money for campaigning against the measure, even though millions of dollars from private sources was being spent on campaigns in favor of the measure. It was suggested to us (the employees) that we try to convince our friends and relatives in California to vote against the measure and that its passage could cost us our jobs.

I had already been with that agency for six years so I was somewhat confident that if things got to that level, my job was secure. I hoped!

I’ll admit now, that I did not ask anyone to vote against the measure as I personally had watched my property taxes double in each of the last two years. In addition, I had personally witnessed the extreme waste and extravagance by various city offices. I was raised in a low-middle income and conservative family. I knew that what I witnessed was wrong and irresponsible.

I have to confess that I was also guilty of the extravagance. I was in a position where I hired contractors and consultants. Therefore, I spent many lunch hours, sometimes two or three hours, “out to lunch” with them. Sometimes, I was the host.

That is, I invited them and therefore picked up the check. I’d pay for the lunch and all the drinks with my personal credit card. When I returned to my office, I’d hand the receipt to my assistant (she was called my secretary at the time) and by the end of the day, I would be reimbursed the entire amount in cash.

I knew that this was wrong and had guilty feelings about it. But it was common practice throughout the organization.

Needless to say, after Proposition 13 was passed by the voters in 1978, that “common practice” came to a screeching halt.

The city I was employed with has a very decent tax base from sales tax and did not depend so highly on property taxes. Several cuts were induced and hiring freezes were implemented but no one lost their job. However, it was a different story in many other cities and counties. Many jobs were lost. But I believe that’s a means of eliminating extravagance and implementing efficiency.

I don’t think anyone lost their lives over it, and in fact, it most likely ended up creating a lot of jobs in the private sector.

In a desperate attempt at budget cuts, most agencies ended up hiring consultants to provide many services previously performed by agency employees. Studies performed by many agency administrations proved that “farming out” the work was much more efficient and a lot less costly.

The measure passed by voters on Kauai several years ago would not have solved the problem here in Kauai. That measure only affected residential homes where the owners lived in the home. It did not offer any control of taxes imposed on rented residential properties or commercial or industrial properties. Therefore, it did nothing to force the county to minimize their inefficiencies. Whatever taxes were reduced from one group, would be increased on another group. Likely commercial and others. That would have a considerable affect on prices we pay for products and services.

Proposition 13 in California was statewide. And it affected all properties. Government agencies had no choice but to cut their budgets and eliminate inefficiencies.


Larry Arruda is a resident of Kapaa.


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