After the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001, the Californian government created a program through which residents could purchase “We Will Never Forget” memorial license plates in the understanding that they would be making a contribution toward helping 9/11 victims’ families and law enforcement. 15 percent of the proceeds were to be alloted to scholarship funds for Californian victims’ children, while the other 85 percent was to go to anti-terrorism efforts.

Unfortunately, bureaucracies have an uncanny knack for messing up even the most well-meaning of ideas. I’m pretty sure that, in private-sector circumstances, this would fall solidly under the category of false advertising bordering embezzlement, and consumers wouldn’t suffer any paltry “out-of-date, it was overlooked” excuses. As it is, however:

But a review by The Associated Press of the $15 million collected since lawmakers approved the “California Memorial Scholarship Program” shows only a small fraction of the money went to scholarships. …

Millions more have been spent on budget items with little relation to direct threats of terrorism, including livestock diseases and workplace safety.

Moreover, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has been advertising the plates as helping the children of Sept. 11 victims, even though the state stopped funding the scholarship program seven years ago. The specialty plate fund continues to take in $1.5 million a year. …

The total amount dedicated to scholarships was 1.5 percent of the $5.5 million raised through the sale of the plates through 2005.

The original legislation said the remainder of the money would go to law enforcement, fire protection, and public health agencies to be used “exclusively for purposes directly related to fighting terrorism.”

But in 2008, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, borrowed $2 million to close a budget gap. Last year, Brown, a Democrat, borrowed another $1 million. …

Patricia Anderson, who paid $98 for a personalized memorial plate reading “WE R 4US,” said she signed up for the program primarily to show respect for victims of the 9/11 attacks. Anderson said she was disheartened but not surprised to learn that much of the money has gone to fill the state deficit or used for general purposes.

“That’s California,” said Anderson, who now lives near Austin, Texas. “It’s kind of a given these days — nothing is spent on what it’s supposed to be.”

(I must confess, I do find it a tad bit humorous that the AP got that last quote from a former California resident who up and moved away from one of the least business-friendly states in the country, to the one of the most business-friendly, Texas. Case in point.)

This is the problem with huge, spending-shnockered bureaucracies. They respond to changes with neither agility nor efficiency, and important details just get lost as directives trickle down the too-behemoth chain of command. If such a disingenuous, rude oversight can so blithely occur in California’s government structure, I wonder how many such little surprises are lurking beneath the veneer of our own everyday-expanding federal government?