In early 1776, as tensions between the British Empire and the American colonies heated up, the North Carolina Provincial Congress formally asked John Adams of Boston his advice on creating a new government and crafting a constitution. Adams responded by writing a book, Thoughts on Government. Adams wrote, “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor or private interest of any one man, family or class of men; therefore, the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government; and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

As Independence Day approaches, it’s appropriate to think about whether our governments – local, state and federal – are being run to serve the common good, as Adams suggested, or do they instead serve the immediate ambitions of politicians and the narrow financial interests of crony capitalists and labor unions?

From working in the California Legislature for 24 years, and seeing the actions of Governors and legislators up close, I’ve learned not to accept the glib headlines of how our state government works. Two weeks ago, newspaper headlines boldly proclaimed that the California Legislature had passed the state budget by the June 15 constitutional deadline. An on-time budget! Yippy. To quote Prince, let’s party like it’s 1999! Governor Brown and legislators were treated like conquering Roman generals returning in chariots to the Forum. But shouldn’t we ask whether the state budget promotes the common good?

In last week’s column, I outlined how the California Legislature, as part of the budget process, quickly passed SB 858, a bill that mandates lower budget reserves for local school districts. This bill was passed on a Sunday, Father’s Day, and had never been previously heard in any policy or fiscal committee. The new law will boost the salaries of adults at schools but at the expensive of students and equal opportunity. Similarly, the state budget’s “Cap and Trade Expenditure Plan” means that Auburn residents will pay more for electricity and gas bills and have their wages cut with little or no benefit in return.

Here’s how the rip-off works. AB 32, the “Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006” created an auction system – called Cap and Trade – that requires manufacturers and other industries that use lots of energy to pay extra for the privilege of providing jobs in California. This law is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As these businesses pay the AB 32 tax, the wages of workers in the energy sector will be depressed. The AB 32 auction system will hit fuels in 2015 and an economic analysis commissioned by the California Air Resources Board found that gas prices would rise by 16 to 76 cents a gallon. The Cap and Trade auction system will create $832 million in revenue this year and approximately $3 billion per year in the near future.

How will the Governor and Legislature spend this treasure trove taken from workers and seniors? The new state budget mandates that 25% of the money go to fund the so-called bullet train, which has doubled in cost to over $68 billion. Anyone want to ride a train from Madera to Bakersfield? And since the construction of the train will cause GHG emissions of 30,000 metric tons, the state government will increase our energy and gas bills even more to pay for this boondoggle and bailout.

The state budget also mandates that cap and trade money fund government subsidized housing near train stations. And it does almost nothing to fund dry wood removal from our dangerously overgrown forests, which creates massive air pollution in the Sierra foothills. This is crazy.

Instead of accepting this poor work of public policy, let’s work together to enact reforms to create jobs, improve our transportation system and lower pollution. As John Adams advised, we have an obligation “to reform, alter, or totally change” our government “when the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness require it.”

Published in the Auburn Journal on July 2, 2014