Will Work For Food?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The California Budget, as signed in July 2009

California is still suffering from high unemployment (a shout-out here to my own household and to so many friends who have also lost their jobs) and shows other indications of economic weakness. So the hope was for something less contractionary than the current all-cuts budget, with the cuts affecting mainly the poor and the middle class. Isn't this a classic way to fuel demand destruction?

In addition, from a humane, common sense, let's-get-out-of-the-short-term-thinking-trap point of view, this budget is the nightmare many of us prayed we would not see in real life. It is needlessly cruel and dangerous to many vulnerable citizens, such as the sick, the disabled and children. It takes from education, thus eroding the pool of talent our state needs to both attract and keep businesses here and to cope successfully with the new economy of the 21st century.

This budget is not a permanent solution to the deficit problem, and adds new debt. For those of you concerned with the cost vs. benefits of the presence of illegal immigrants in our state, this budget does not address that issue in any way. The closure of our parks will take away more than 2 dollars from our economy for every 1 dollar saved. The cuts to firefighting allocations, from the point of view of someone who was recently close to the Jesusita Fire, the Gap Fire, and the Tea Fire, simply take my breath away.

There WERE other alternatives--so why these and other terrible furies leashed upon us? It is as if the leaders were trying to punish the citizens of this state. Is that a crazy thought? Or is it perhaps something real, such as retribution for those who did bother to vote having voted a big NO on the ballot propositions of last May, in a special election which was to help balance the budget -- with the one YES vote from the electorate going towards prohibiting increases to legislators' salaries during times of budget deficit...?

I cannot say for certain what produced this horrific end product of months of tortured negotiations. But it is interesting to note that once again, a minority successfully held the majority hostage, delaying the signing to the point where the state began to issue IOUs instead of paying obligations, delay which once again wasted a great deal of money and time.

As a former Republican, I keep calling on the California GOP to please move back towards the moderate center, where the majority of us are sitting on the Confused Couch, wringing our hands. No one I know, Republican or Democrat or Other, refused the entire idea of more taxes to help balance the state budget. People don't want their money wasted. They want to see government, including politicians, sharing in the sacrifice we all must make to get the books permanently in order. But only extremists are ok with ripping health care from sick citizens, leaving disabled people without care, taking away education and health insurance and funding for necessities of life for children, closing our parks, reducing our firefighting capabilities, and in other ways attacking our communities.

Most of us just want common sense. So naturally questions begin to be asked, such as why is California the only oil-producing state which does not have an extraction tax (as opposed to such commie pinko liberal hangouts such as Alaska and Texas) ? Why were there recent tax cuts for corporations in the billions of dollars? What was so wrong with the proposed FIFTEEN DOLLAR PER YEAR fee to be added to the vehicle license fee which would have kept the parks open? I'm very low-income and yet I could have come up with that, and would have gladly contributed to something so important to our state.

Now the silent sane majority, who would have stayed quiet had this 2009 budget been a rational product of sincere negotiation, are now going to have to join some of the passionate advocates for reform of some of the provisions which were slipped into Proposition 13, many years ago. At that time people were voting to help homeowners who were losing their homes due to rapidly rising home values and the accompanying too-rapidly rising property taxes. This was the famous "Tax Revolt," which was to usher in an antitax national rebellion. If it in any way contributed to Ronald Reagan's election, perhaps it did do some of that ushering. But that was thirtysomething years ago and our economy has changed dramatically in those years.

The voters who proudly voted back in '78 to keep property taxes on homes from rising too fast were not also vocally championing keeping taxes on commercial property artificially low as well: but that's what 13 gave them, thus making the state heavily dependent on income tax revenue, which varies wildly in "boom" and "bust" years. 13 also slipped in a mandatory requirement for 2/3 of the legislature being needed to agree before a tax could be passed, before a tax cut could be repealed, and for a budget to be passed. 2/3 is hard to get in a large state with strong political divisions. In fact the only other states who require a 2/3 vote to get a budget passed are Arkansas and Rhode Island. California does not have much else in common with these states, AFAIK. I know Rhode Island pretty well, actually. Have ancestors there going back to the state founder. Arkansas, I need to rely on others to tell me about.

Anyway, for 30 years this state has had trouble getting any needed revenue increases passed as well as getting budgets passed on time. And we scratch our heads and wonder where these deficits come from.

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An undergrad economics degree was all I could afford. Alas and alack, it did not guarantee me regular meals.

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Except where individually noted, photos for this blog were taken by xbeepx .