California legislature attacks the biggest issue it can handle

California is drowning in debt, thanks to a decades-long spending binge and a tax system practically designed for failure during recessions.  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has demanded cuts in spending while hinting to Congress and the White House for a multi-billion-dollar bailout.  Under those circumstances, one might expect the state legislature to focus on regaining its fiscal health more than petty social engineering.  But just as with their laser-like focus on the plague of cow-tail abuse and the apology to 19th-century Chinese workers last year, Sacramento is once again making its irrelevance and incompetent leadership plain to see:

State lawmakers are taking aim at what some of them see as a menace to California’s environment: free parking.

There is too much of it, the legislators say, and it encourages people to drive instead of taking the bus, walking or riding a bike. All that motoring is contributing to traffic jams and pollution, according to state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), and on Thursday he won Senate approval of a proposal he hopes will prompt cities and businesses to reduce the availability of free parking. …

The bill, supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sierra Club, provides financial incentives for cities and counties to stop providing free parking on the street and at government offices and to reduce the amount they require businesses to provide.

So the state — which is bankrupt and occasionally pays its bills in IOUs — will send subsidies to locales that eliminate free parking.  What that means is that Californians will actually subsidize an increase in fees.  They’ll pay twice every time they park: once with the subsidies, and once again to park where it used to cost nothing to do so.

Advocates argue that free parking isn’t really free, because business have to maintain parking lots, as do government offices.  But those costs get figured into the cost of the goods and services provided, especially in the private sector.  What’s more, the costs get passed only to the consumers who choose to frequent the stores.  By providing financial incentives such as tax breaks, everyone has to pay for the parking spots that disappear through the lost tax revenue of the incentives, which will have to be made up elsewhere.

Even if this was good policy — which it isn’t — the priorities of the state legislature seem just as askew as a broken cow tail.  Two years into a budget crisis, the state seems a lot more interested in sticking to the taxpayer for their own idea of social engineering instead of fixing the mess they have made of the state budget.

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