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Waste--Not Prop. 13--Is Blamed : Poll: Respondents reject argument that property tax limits are at the root of the county’s fiscal collapse.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

True to their image as tightfisted taxpayers, Orange County residents blame a history of wasteful government spending--not the shackles of Proposition 13 tax limits--as the root cause of the county’s financial crisis, according to a new Times Orange County Poll.

Two-thirds of those polled--including wide majorities of both Democrats and Republicans--agreed with the statement that the crisis “came about in part because county government was overstaffed and wasted taxpayers’ money for years.”

Fewer than one in five respondents said that Proposition 13 forced officials desperate for new revenues to make the risky investments that brought about the county’s bankruptcy.

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The poll results are one more sign that taxpayers are in no mood to forgive their leaders for the financial calamity, which already has forced about $40 million in announced county spending cuts and plans for 400 layoffs.

“If they’d just stop wasting the money that comes in, I don’t think they’d need to cut back,” said respondent Wanda Ires, a 76-year-old, retired real-estate broker from Laguna Hills. “An awful lot of tax money is coming in, and what are they doing with it?”

There was almost universal agreement that a bloated and inefficient county government caused the debacle. Among Republicans, 70% held that view, while the figure among Democrats was 64%. The figure was just as damning among parents of schoolchildren, with 68% blaming overspending.

Few pointed the finger at fiscal strains caused by Proposition 13, which limits the amount that local governments can raise through property taxes and, some say, has handcuffed officials looking for ways to fund programs.

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Only 19% of respondents agreed that the measure “made it so hard to raise taxes that schools and local governments were forced to make risky investments to get enough money to pay for their operations.” The vast majority who disagreed--77%--came from both parties.

“To me, Prop. 13 is being used as a crutch,” said Grace Azvedo, 62, of Tustin, a retired accounting supervisor for a north Orange County school district.

Instead, she pinned blame for the faulty investments on poor judgment by county officials.

“It’s not your money. It’s not your collateral. It’s taxpayer money,” said Azvedo. “Even my 8-year-old granddaughter is learning that you have to be responsible for your actions--if you want the responsibility and the job.”

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Cause of the Crisis

County residents don’t buy the argument that officials were driven to risky investments because of the fiscal strain caused by Proposition 13. They do, however, partially blame mismanagement in county government for the current predicament.

Some people say Orange County’s financial crisis was caused at least in part byProposition 13, which made it so hard to raise taxes that schools and localgovernments were forced to make risky investments to get enough money to pay fortheir operations. Do you agree or disagree with this view?

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Total Democrats Republicans Agree 19% 27% 12% Disagree 77% 69% 85% Don’t know 4% 4% 3%

Others say the financial crisis came about in part because county government wasoverstaffed and wasted taxpayers’ money for years. Do you agree or disagree with thisview?

Total Democrats Republicans Agree 67% 64% 70% Disagree 27% 32% 25% Don’t know 6% 4% 5%

Source: Times Orange County Poll

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Times Orange County Poll

Today: The political fallout

Saturday: Taxes and the road to recovery

Sunday: How the bankruptcy hits home

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HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED

The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare and Associates. The telephone survey of 600 Orange County adult residents was conducted from Jan. 20 to 23 on weekend days and weekday nights, using a computer-generated random sample of listed and unlisted telephone numbers. The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.


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