Lieber wants to "put the entire state budget online" in detail so people can see for themselves how their tax dollars are spent. And she is considering a contest for citizen budget proposals called "there oughta be a budget cut," a play on outgoing state Sen. Joe Simitian's contest, "there oughta be a law."
Lieber believes there are a "multitude" of state departments "that need to have the light shone on them," particularly Corrections and Rehabilitation which oversees state prisons. It turns out that even legislators have a hard time getting the information that's in the budget to make those decisions, Lieber said.
Lieber recalled a request by East Bay state Sen. Lonnie Hancock for the Department of Corrections' line-item budget. The department "went into this wild dance and said, 'Why are we being victimized here?' It took a while for them to give up the information," Lieber said.
Lieber said it was probably not a coincidence that the department "also put in a request to cut 150 positions" as it released its budget.
An unusual expense found by state Assemblyman Jim Beall in a separate information request was $60,000 a month for pizza to be delivered to a Central Valley prison. Apparently, staff "didn't want to eat the food made by the inmates even though there's no way to tell who the food is going to go to," Lieber said. "I'd like to know whose brother-in-law owns a pizzeria, because no one can eat $60,000 in pizza a month."
Small cuts add up
Lieber believes there are lots of such examples that add up, but it's difficult to get attention on any wasteful spending that's not many millions of dollars.
"We have a lot of people in the Bay Area that love to sit down on a Saturday night and go through a budget," Lieber said. "The numbers are there for them to identify and pounce on"
"Maybe we'll offer a prize," Lieber said. "If you can find something to cut that adds up to $20 million, we'll let you have lunch with the governor."
Lieber said budget cuts were one "meaningful way" to better fund education, along with reform of the state's vaunted Proposition 13, which allows longtime property owners to have their property taxes based on 1975 property values if the property has not changed owners.
"I talked to one woman in San Carlos who, for her 1,400-square-foot home, is paying more in property taxes than the Trader Joe's" nearby. "It needs to be adjusted but it will be a really awful fight to get it done."
Lieber faces San Mateo-based state Assemblyman Jerry Hill and Mountain View teacher Christopher Chiang in the race for the newly formed 13th state Senate district, which stretches from Brisbane to Sunnyvale, covering 29 municipalities and nearly 1 million people. As in her race for Mountain View City Council and the state Assembly, she is out-gunned financially and lacks endorsements from the establishment.
"That's where I'm really comfortable, in the underdog position," said Lieber. "I would be really uncomfortable as the Humpty-Dumpty."
Lieber said a reason why women only make up 18 percent of the legislators in Sacramento is because they are attracted to issues that "don't attract fund-raising capacity." For example, Lieber took on issues related to women in prison while in the Assembly because no one else would, she said.
Her husband, a tech executive, is her biggest financial supporter so far, recently loaning her $100,000 for her campaign, bringing her campaign funds at the end of the 2011 to $164,262, while Hill raised $205,266. Before winning her state Assembly seat, Lieber's husband loaned her $200,000.
Campaign finance records also show two donations from Chevron for $2,200, which Lieber said she returned after considering the impacts of the oil giant's business.
When asked how she differs from Hill, Lieber highlighted the fact that she publicly opposes the Saltworks project in Redwood City, which could mean money spent against her by the developers. Saltworks developer DMB admitted to spending $30,000 against Palo Alto's Yoriko Kishimoto when she ran for state Assembly because of her opposition to the massive project, and vowed to spend against other opponents. Lieber notes that many elected officials in San Mateo County do not have a position on the project.
"I think it's absolutely the wrong thing to do, to fill in restorable Bay wetlands for a new city of 30,000 people, far away from mass transit and protected only by levies," Lieber said. Because the wetlands could be destroyed, "I do not support the idea that it's a local issue for Redwood City," Lieber said. "We can't go to other parts of the world and say, 'Don't gobble up your resources,' if we can't save the world-class resources here, in a place where we are financially able to stop ourselves."