Today's "Are you kidding me, really?" news out of California's decade-long collapse into insolvency comes from the Associated Press as part of an investigation of a memorial license plate fund for the survivors of the 9/11 attacks.
The AP reports that of the $15 million California collected through the sale of specialty "We Will Not Forget" memorial license plates, a mere $21,381 has actually made it to California children of 9/11 victims as part of a scholarship fund authorized by state legislation.
So where did the rest of the money go to?
The Legislature sent $3.7 million to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, according to the Department of Finance, to establish an online food monitoring database and implement a variety of worker safety programs, including hiring industrial hygienists to tend to worker health. …
The response contained itemized budget reports going back six years and listing payments for all types of government functions, ranging from salaries and benefits, to printing costs and communication equipment. Among the details: $18,163 for furniture in 2006 and $11,492 for auto inspection in 2009.
The response also included a legislative report on the threats the agriculture department is targeting with an online database the license plate program helps fund. A similar report from 2006, when the license plate money was first authorized, lists bioterrorism as a potential danger. But the 2011 report focuses on food safety and livestock concerns, including foot-and-mouth disease and meat and poultry monitoring.
Emphasis added to highlight that California is using a 9/11 memorial fund to pay government employees. Read the description of what an industrial hygienist is here and wonder why the government is paying for them in the first place.
The scholarship program the license plate is supposed to be funding doesn't even exist anymore. California's treasurer's office closed it in 2005. The money not used for the scholarships was supposed to go to law enforcement to be used to buy more toys for local SWAT teams "exclusively for purposes directly related to fighting terrorism."
Instead, in addition to spending the money elsewhere, both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gov. Jerry Brown have drawn more than $3 million from the fund as loans to help balance the budget, an offense that is almost comically absurd, given the state's standing budget deficit of $16 billion.
Wallow in the outrage fatigue among Californians (or former Californians, in this case) when it comes to the state's budget:
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."
Oh, and up until the Associated Press contacted the Department of Motor Vehicles last week, the agency's website was still advertising that the money from the memorial plates would go to children of 9/11 victims, seven years after the fund was actually closed.