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California Republicans demonstrate their irrelevance

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California Republicans love to talk about limiting government, fighting bureaucracy and keeping taxes low, but on March 17 they proved that this is nothing more than a rhetorical device. Given the opportunity to rein in the size and power of government in a tangible way, Assembly Republicans — with one sole exception — punted. They rallied to save some of the most abusive and wastrel government agencies around.

California voters ought to at least understand where the overwhelming majority of GOP Assembly members stand — on the side of big government, higher taxes and uncontrolled debt and against property rights, individualism and freedom. As the party blathers about luring minority and working-class voters, let it be clear that the GOP sided with the developers and government planners who want to drive minorities and working-class people off of their property.

As part of the governor’s budget package, the Assembly voted on SB77, which would have ended the state’s redevelopment agencies. But the only longtime redevelopment foe, Chris Norby of Fullerton, sided with taxpayers and property owners. The rest of the Assembly Republicans voted “no” or didn’t vote at all. Had even one of the Republicans joined Norby, the bill would have passed with a two-thirds majority. At presstime, the vote remained open, with one or two Republicans still on the fence, but why is it this hard to get Republicans to live up to their own stated principles?

Redevelopment was started decades ago to upgrade decrepit urban areas, but in the ensuing years the state’s now-nearly 400 active redevelopment agencies have become horrific abusers of eminent domain. They routinely take private property from homeowners and small business owners and give it to developers on the cheap. Redevelopment agencies subsidize big-box stores and auto malls — it’s about luring sales taxes, not about upgrading blight. Government officials don’t care whose rights they erode in the process of gaining more money for government.

Gov. Jerry Brown has targeted the agencies because they divert 12 percent of the state’s property taxes from traditional public services (schools, police, parks and firefighting) to corporate welfare. He figures the state can save about $1.7 billion as he seeks to close a gaping $26.6 billion budget hole. This should have been a no-brainer with any Republican with a brain. But the California GOP is the party of numbskulls.

Redevelopment is about everything Republicans claim to loath: bureaucracy, debt, abuses of property rights, big government, excessive land-use rules, subsidized housing and fiscal irresponsibility. In California cities, redevelopment bureaucrats bully people and impose enormous burdens on taxpayers.

Some sided with redevelopment because of their support for local projects. Most Republicans offered lame excuses. For instance, they argued that if redevelopment agencies were shut down, something new and equally bad would take its place. That’s an absurd argument. They might as well oppose tax cuts by arguing that the government will find other ways to raise the revenue. It’s true that Democrats are doing the right thing for the wrong reason here, but so what? A serious party takes its opportunities as they come along.

Ironically, the Democrats claimed to love redevelopment, but voted to end the agencies as a way to save money. Republicans often criticized the redevelopment process, but then rallied the troops to save it. Let’s at least dispense with all the rhetoric. The party that saved redevelopment is no friend of the California taxpayer.

Steven Greenhut is editor of www.calwatchdog.com. Write to him at sgreenhut@calwatchdog.com.