Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Whose to blame for California's fiscal disaster?

Time for California voters to look in the mirror and face some tough facts.

...The results Tuesday fit Californians' long-standing pattern of demanding what is ultimately irreconcilable, all the more so in an economic downturn: lower taxes and higher spending.

"We all want a free lunch, but unfortunately that doesn't exist," said former Gov. Gray Davis, whose 2003 recall stemmed largely from a budget crisis brought on by the dot-com bust. For decades, Davis said, Californians have been "papering over this fundamental reality that the state has been living beyond its means."

Davis and many other elected officials bear some responsibility for that. But so do voters.

In the Proposition 13 tax rebellion of 1978, Californians voted to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to raise taxes, a major obstacle to budget agreements. Over the last couple of decades, voters have also passed a patchwork of ballot measures directing billions of dollars to favorite causes, among them public schools and transportation projects.

On Tuesday, Californians showed they were unwilling to scale back their demands in tight times: Voters turned down propositions that would have freed up money that they set aside years ago for mental-health and children's programs.

"The irony is that the more the hands of the Legislature and governor are tied up, the more frustrated people are," said Tim Hodson, director of the Center for California Studies at Cal State Sacramento.

Together, voters' piecemeal decisions since the 1970s have effectively "emasculated the Legislature," said John Allswang, a retired Cal State L.A. history professor.

"They're looking for cheap answers -- throw the guys out of power and put somebody else in, or just blame the politicians and pretend you don't have to raise taxes when you need money," he said.

"This is what the public wants, and they deceive themselves constantly. They're not realistic..."

Read the entire story.


David Dickens said...

Yes, some initiatives have caused side-bar problems to the central issues and yes, Californians are both driven and lazy (they work very hard doing what they love and refuse to do anything they don't want to, and will pay others almost anything to do it for them).

However, this article is bent. Sacramento's culture is broken. There are powerful interests that get anything they want at the expense of the more general interests of the state.

The only way in which Prop13 figures into this is that it resulted in many counties becoming dependent on state funds for local education programs. With only 1 point of failure the education-industrial complex could effect maximum damage on the budget process.

Frankly, the problem isn't the problem anymore. The problem is no one is confronting the necessary solutions, most of which are messy and will have catastrophic consequences for some communities and probably some otherwise worthwhile programs and policies.

A constitutional convention wouldn't even work, because the same people that got us into this would just enshrine the broken beast.

It's time to break the state up, or if not formally do so, establish three largely separate administrative districts that only share a common court system, highway infrastructure and federal representation. They can have different legislative and administrative bodies, tax rates, services, water and power systems etc.

They all inherit the current system as a starting point so there's no shock to businesses and communities.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I don't think the article is in any way absolving those in Sacramento from their fair share of responsibility in this catastrophe. Their objective is to point out that the voters in CA bear a good chunk of the blame themselves. In that context I think this a pretty fair article.

It would be best if the system of public referendums which are frequently abused by the powerful interests you already alluded to were severely curtailed or just abolished.

Christ is risen!

David Dickens said...

I'm definitely over-compensating on my side of the fence against the article.

However, too much good that would be impossible without the initiative system has been done as well. Not just recently but going back to the 1800's when the first "taxpayer revolts" happened in California.

I will say this, I'm exhausted trying to think of ways to prevent people from being evil. If someone smarter than me (thank God there are many of those) wants to package up a set of solutions and I have to give up initiatives, then I'm not going to oppose it on that basis alone.