The bicycle racer Lance Armstrong, facing federal investigations of whether he was a drug cheat, has just announced his retirement from racing.
His next gig? Helping make California's governing system even more dysfunctional than it already is.
Armstrong is chairing a new ballot initiative, the California Cancer Research Act, which appears headed for the next statewide ballot, whenever that turns out to be. The act sounds good, as such initiatives do: it imposes an additional $1-per-pack tax on cigarettes (which should reduce smoking) to fund cancer research (which is very important).
But read the fine print, and what you see is another special interest initiative carving out tax money for its own narrow health purposes -- at a time when core government services, including health programs, are facing big cuts. The initiative also has strong language preventing the state government from grabbing the money even for more urgent priorities or in the event of an emergency. Defenders of the initiative point out that this measure is better than most -- since it identifies a specific additional tax to fund its programs, and many initiatives simply make a claim on the general fund. But just because this initiative is better than most initiatives doesn't mean it's good.
This creation of budget silos has been one of the most frustrating features of the persistent budget crisis. Programs in mental health and early childhood -- which were also created by ballot initiatives with similar dedicated taxes -- have big surpluses of cash as the rest of the state starves. But efforts to grab that money have failed, in part because the state's governing system makes it so easy to lock the money up.
There must be a better way for Armstrong to do penance for whatever his sins are.