A Further Perspective

Detector Nannies

The Golden State's latest efforts to choke its citizenry.

By 6.13.11

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George Orwell would have loved them. The members of the California State Legislature, unwilling to come to grips with their giant deficit, have decided instead that all 37 million of their fellow citizens must be saved from death by carbon monoxide.

How?  By passing a law -- with little publicity -- requiring every single-family home in the state that has gas or electric appliances, a fireplace and/or attached garage to install carbon monoxide detectors -- by July 1!

How great is the threat? Not very. The acting State fire marshal claims that nationally an average of 480 people die of carbon monoxide poisoning. That is a tragedy for those involved, of course, but in California, with about 11 percent of the population, that would mean an average of 53 such deaths a year. Rather than requiring every home -- about 15 million of them -- to pay $20 to $40 per detector (and some homes would require more than one), an extensive statewide public service ad campaign should achieve the same cautionary result at very little cost. Legislators, however, don't think that way. It's easier to play Nanny and "mandate" things.

If the average California home spends an average of, say, $30, for a Nanny-imposed detector that would be a total of $450 million going to retail dealers and manufacturers of the devices. A recent "study" conducted by First Alert, a company that makes and sells carbon monoxide detectors, "found" that nine of 10 California households "were not in compliance with the national recommendation for the number of carbon monoxide detectors required in a home," according to a recent news story. The people at First Alert must be salivating. One wonders how many legislators' campaigns received contributions from them. 

First it was incandescent bulbs, now carbon monoxide detectors. What's next?

While that question is being pondered, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that California must cut its prison population by 33,000 has Governor Jerry Brown in a sweat as to the ways and means to accomplish it. He wants to send many of them to county jails and pay counties to take them.

There is no money to do that and Brown is hoping that funds will come from an extension of sales and vehicle taxes due to expire June 30. That would require a vote which could not come until November and there is no guarantee the voters will approve the measure. In fact, they are in a mood to turn it down.

Meanwhile, Brown and the legislature are talking about rescinding some of the education tax cuts they said they would make. There has been much hand-wringing in school districts and many vocal delegations dispatched to Sacramento. California voters treat education as a sacred cow and are generally supine when asked to support any education spending measure. In boom times, 2004-07, the state increased spending on K-12 and community colleges from $47 billion a year to $56 billion. Although student enrollment was not growing, the schools added 4,000 teachers and 2,100 administrative personnel. Many districts, with the real estate boom generating new taxes  from property sales, increased teacher salaries and benefits. As usual, they spent as if there were no tomorrow. Tomorrow did come and it's still here. Revenues are down. The real estate market is bad and not improving. The state is among the top in state pay and the bottom five in student test scores.  Sacramento wants to go back to spending more. Go figure, as they say.

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About the Author
Peter Hannaford was closely associated with the late President Reagan for a number of years. He is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger. His latest book is “Presidential Retreats.”