Thursday, July 02, 2009

California Gasping for Air

California is not a shopoholic homemaker who bought too many shoes and lunches. The state is broke for fundamental reasons that are clear warnings to others.

To torture and alter the analogy, California did not suddenly sink into the Pacific. It worked real hard to go underwater.

Over at Salon, Gary Kamiya points his finger of blame largely at Republican and libertarian no-tax sorts. He writes that the stand-off between anti-government types and leftists remains in inaction because of legislative rules requiring a two-thirds vote on big issues.

While that is important, I return to examine the cumulative effect of decades of plentiful, destructive ballot initiatives. This is my recurrent theme of the flamethrower of populism.

The most simple-minded of us are wont to chant, "Let the people vote." Even the sanest of us feel the pull of trying to govern a state of nearly 38 million like a town meeting. That fails when we substitute policy plebiscites for representative democracy.

That's exactly what tipped California into the drink.

Some such votes, like overturning same-sex marriage this fall have smaller and less obvious economic impacts. Many others, like mandating continued government services while rolling down and capping property taxes, are killers. Voters don't want to pay taxes, but they want the services taxes used to buy. Something has to give. In this case, it is the entire state government. Salon has a couple of such examples, but there are many and have been new ones annually.

The Reaganomics fantasies of getting along just fine without government...and the taxes to fund at their worst this week in Sacramento. Other states have adjusted more quickly to the realities of financing the minimum services their voters demand, but they have not been under the strictures and initiative requirements as California.

Here in Massachusetts, we have let the majority of our legislature and our governors between Michael Dukakis and Deval Patrick swear they will not raise taxes, any taxes. Instead, they deferred infrastructure maintenance and investment in technologies and education. We're in the brine, but not underwater, here as a result. Also, our much stricter initiative process virtually eliminates unfunded mandates.

Somehow, California is certain to resurface. Just as surely, the bad kinds of anti-tax/anti-government sorts will continue their ceaseless ballot initiatives. Now though, they will find much less support. People who have held state IOUs instead of payments and those looking at poorer education, fewer police and firefighters and the countless small effects of bankruptcy are not as likely to live the fantasy again so soon.

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ogre said...

Ballot initiatives didn't do it. Not on their own.

Ballot initiatives existed for the better part of a century without doing this to California.

What happened is that the CA GOP started being its deranged self; no tax ever, no sane reform, no government involvement... and between the lies and the lazy media, we got things like Prop 13 (which really does lie at the bottom of most of the problems) provided a tax break that wildly--over time--has benefited corporations more than anyone else.

The CA constitution has a number of weak points, and the GOP has made the most of them for partisan benefit... to the detriment of the state. Shocking, I know. But that's how we got Ahnold, too.

massmarrier said...

No one says initiatives were the sole cause.However, California has the laxest and dumbest initiatives procedures and the worst effects. They, like Washington State, have professional initiative proposers who push destructive ones through for business and political groups.

You're right about the Republicans gaming the legislative system too. Both the ballot and lawmaking angles need serious reform. We'll see if this crisis will catalyze that.

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