As an addendum to last week’s post about the California budget propositions, let me say that I voted for 1B (raising school funds if 1A passes) and against the rest.
I am apparently not alone, as it appears all but 1F (legislator pay caps) failed. The chair of the Assembly Budget Committee told the AP, “I think the voters are sending a message that they believe the budget is the job of the governor and the Legislature. We probably need to go back and do our job.” Um? yeah.
As a reminder to the politicians and opinionmakers, I want to return to a theme in that previous post. I wrote:
here’s my problem. I don’t know what happens [if the propositions fail]. The proponents of 1A-F insist that, if they fail, teachers, firefighters, and nurses will all be laid off. And that might be true. It’d be a disaster.
Is it a bluff? Will a few Republicans take their lithium and vote for a sane budget that raises taxes enough to get us through tough times? Or will they burn the joint down for the insurance money?
I don’t like voting with a gun to my head, and the rhetoric of the governator and of the newspapers contributed to the sense that I was doing exactly that. This photo and caption ran on the front page of the SF Chronicle two Sundays ago:
The not-so-subtle message: Vote for the propositions or the firemen get it.
Governor Schwarzenegger took a similar tack in recent speeches, telling an audience at a senior center: “We understand that they are angry, the people are angry at Sacramento. But they should not let that anger out on killing those [propositions], because what they will do is hurt their local communities.”
Of course, this is exactly the problem with governing by ballot initiative. The budget is a tricky contraption, with lots of knobs and sliders. Giving the public six switches they can flip is hardly a way to sort out the complex tradeoffs. The other problem with governing by ballot initiative is best expressed by a recent Field Poll headline: “While California voters prefer spending cuts to tax increases to resolve the state budget deficit, majorities oppose cutbacks in ten of twelve spending categories.” Cutting those two categories ? state prisons and state parks ? won’t fill the budget deficit.
The deficit stands at ~$15 billion (or more!). The prison budget is ~$10 billion, and the parks get roughly $600 million. Even if we let all the criminals out and shuttered the parks, we wouldn’t fix the deficit. So the 67% who prefer to cut spending and not raise taxes are kinda SOL. A narrow majority of Democrats were willing to pay higher taxes to solve the deficit (53%) and many nonpartisan voters were also willing, 45% in favor and 51% opposed. Republicans, predictably, wanted to burn the joint down, with only 18% willing to pay their share to fix the budget hole.
Given that political reality, Republican wingnuts are free to remain unhinged. Gubernatorial candidate and former McCain economics advisor Meg Whitman offered this solution to the Roseville Chamber of Commerce: “I would do a bigger number of layoffs.” She added in an interview later: “The most important thing is we have to get a government that the citizens of California can afford. And as badly as I feel about the 30,000 or 40,000 people that will lose their jobs, I feel even more badly for the millions of Californians who are paying higher taxes, who are looking at a state that is not working.”
Setting aside that this is heartless and stupid in the midst of a recession that’s already driving down employment rates, this is not a solution. The deficit is at least $15 billion, possibly more. Firing people won’t close that gap, and it will add more people to state unemployment rolls. It will also delay or reduce access to government services which are in higher demand during this recession.
Schwarzenegger himself greeted the result in a more conciliatory tone, saying: “I respect the will of the people who are frustrated with the dysfunction in our budget system. Now we must move forward from this point to begin to address our fiscal crisis with constructive solutions.” Hopefully, “constructive solutions” is not code for destructive solutions such as massive layoffs of state employees, underfunding of our schools, or shuttering firestations at the beginning of fire season. There’s large public support for higher taxes on pornography and millionaires. Can we raise the $21 billion needed to patch this year’s budget, and balance next year’s, with those taxes? I don’t know, but it better be on the table.