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Gary Horton: Let's not spend it just because it's lying around

Posted: January 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 16, 2013 2:00 a.m.

My landscape company specializes in the housing industry — and let me tell you it’s been one hard, long housing recession.

Full of cutbacks and setbacks, we’ve experienced postponement of just about every kind of gratification for what’s been going on six years.

Oh, it will be great fun to start spending money again — when it’s time. I’ll start with a new car — when it’s time.

But one thing I’ve actually gained in the recession is new self-restraint and patience, and I’ll be practicing restraint one more year until our financial house is fully in order before you see anything shiny and new in my driveway.

That new car will certainly come, but only when it really is time, based on a hard-acquired fiscal prudence.

Meanwhile, we read that Gov. Jerry Brown declared California’s fiscal crisis over; that we’ve finally balanced our budget without gimmicks; and that he feels it’s again time to concentrate on spending initiatives rather than cost-cutting.

Fortunately, higher education is at the top of his list as Jerry aims to restore $500 million in funding to the Cal State system, deferring tuition increases for the foreseeable future.

Other spending was more typically Californian, with large chunks proposed for social services costing our middle class so much, but which newer arrivals to our state more easily procure for just showing up. ...

Still, I commend Jerry Brown for his fortitude in reining in the spending he did and fighting for the increased taxes the state needed during these last throes of recession.

Brown inherited a mess and has come a long way toward cleaning it up. But please, Jerry, now that we’ve begun to right our ship, don’t spend surpluses just because they’re lying around.

I’m sure Gov. Brown feels incredible relief knowing he’s finally got cash behind the checks California has to cut. All of us understand that it’s far more fun to build and grow than to slash and cut.

So no doubt Jerry wants open California’s increasingly flush wallet. But wait, Jerry! We’re not really "there" yet, and besides, there’s other economic issues the Golden State must still address before firing up the money blaster.

Like — we’re taxed like nowhere else in the country and businesses are giving up on the state. Our top personal tax rate is 13 percent.

That, plus a top federal rate of 39 percent, plus California’s 9 percent sales tax, plus Social Security tax, plus unemployment taxes, plus real estate tax, plus the Obamacare surcharge tax. all mean that higher middle class families may face up to 60 percent tax rates — with another $15,000 to $20,000 to pay for health insurance.

Yes, we’re a large physical state with gobs of infrastructure needs and giant educational and justice costs. Still, we’re competing with the likes of Texas and North Carolina and Washington state for our businesses and minds.

Let’s take a well-worn line from the Republican playbook and agree we can’t overtax the geese that lay our golden eggs.

If we’re righting our ship and taxes are finally equaling expenses, maybe we also want to take a gander at enhancing government efficiency so we can not only improve our services but also lower tax rates and increase our state allure in coming years.

Some examples: We have a small avocado farm in Piru. The facility has a single toilet serviced by a leach line. A county agency requires us to submit quarterly reports detailing how many flushes our one toilet gets flushed into that leach line on our 25-acre orchard.

I’m pretty certain we can eliminate the guy behind that government desk who voyeurs over my toilet flushes.

Last week we received a thick package from San Diego Gas and Electric containing a 59-page inventory listing every spot in every SDGE facility which may have asbestos.

SDGE was required to send the report to all its users — a task necessitating dozens of expensive researchers and government supervisors and untold printing and postage costs.

While I’m now aware of this or that offending floor tile, I’m also aware we can save serious money cutting out the need for silly do-nothing reports like this one.

I hope SDGE doesn’t also have to count its flushes. ...

Small efforts like this would save tens of millions of dollars — perhaps hundreds.

For certain, just as so many California citizens have been made to cut and trim expenses, there are still efficiencies to wring from state government functions.

We’ve all tightened belts and found efficiencies while working our way through this recession. Now it’s California’s time for further prudence and restraint.

We can spend it again when it’s finally time. But while burdened with a 13 percent income tax and 9 percent sales tax, the time certainly isn’t now.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. "Full Speed to Port!" runs Wednesdays in The Signal.


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