The State of Fire: The Costs of Government in California

The State of Fire: The Costs of Government in California

Every burned town is tragic. But Newsom needs to lead with science, not sentiment, because he has the power to enact the most comprehensive, thorough, and far-reaching reforms for the next two years.

That’s why he shouldn’t be mired in the wreckage of fire from a long-since shuttered business.

In a recent speech, Governor Newsom suggested that the fires themselves are not the problem. “The real problem is the lack of funding for government and municipal services,” he said.

It’s an argument made by every governor since John Adams, yet it’s completely untrue. The problem isn’t the fires. It’s the fact that the state doesn’t track how much our local governments and cities actually spend to operate and maintain the services they provide.

And the most glaring example of the lack of transparency comes from the California Department of Finance. The state estimates that local governments spend $16 billion on firefighting annually—a figure that includes all the costs of public safety and emergency services, such as law enforcement, the fire department, public works departments and public health.

Yet the state doesn’t track that spending, let alone produce a figure that accurately compares firefighting spending across jurisdictions.

The state doesn’t even have an accurate accounting of what firefighting spending is in California. And as I wrote earlier this month in an article for the San Francisco Examiner, “Gov. Gavin Newsom is in a race against time—and he’s not going to win.”

Governor Newsom has until the end of 2017 to bring his “state of fire” vision to life. He does not have time to wait. As the president of the state Senate told me, if he waits, he’s giving an unfunded mandate to the state’s mayors to make their own decisions about fire fighting without accurate and up-to-date information about what they’re spending.

It’s time to start counting the costs of the state’s broken budgeting. There’s no better time to do it than after the state’s wildfire season.

So let’s start with the most fundamental question: What are the costs of government in California?

There are four ways we should be able to measure government spending: (1) how much

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