Blame the Voters, Pass the Buck

L.A. Times writers who bemoan "feel-good 'ballot box budgeting'" ignore the paper's longstanding support for bond-measure politics.

(Page 2 of 2)

Day after day, rather than starting from the fact that the California government spends too much money and has therefore run out, writers and commenters have engaged in a ritual of denial, scare-mongering, attacking (both the aforementioned voters and "small government zealots"), then insisting that the real problem is that it's so hard to raise taxes. If any spending problem is grudgingly acknowledged, blame shifts swiftly to the voters.

Well, voters may be an unruly and contradictory lot, deserving no small amount of responsibility for California being nearly ungovernable, but they aren't the only ones with blood on their hands. And they're certainly not the only ones putting these things on the ballot in the first place–of the 22 bond measures under survey, a full 18 were placed there by a vote of the legislature. With a stack of cash northward of $100 billion a year at stake, it's no wonder that the preferred lobbying method of many a public sector union and activist group is to cadge still more billions through the ballot box, a process that has historically received rubber stamp from editorial board and voter alike. Until now.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of Reason.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Invisible Finger||

    After we're taxed at 100%, and we're still out of money, it'll still be too hard to raise taxes.

    So the only 2 options left will be killing the poor, or killing the rich and taking their stuff. But there's no reason the state can't do both.

  • ||

    Here's a cluestick: all those bond measures the voters passed... were bond measures. They were voter approved for specific short-term projects. The debt repayment does have a cost, but it is a minor factor in the budget crisis. The real culprit is the unwillingness to cut any spending.

    Blaming voter approved bonds is like blaming your $500 limit Home Depot Card for your bankruptcy, instead of the Visa Platinum that you ran all the way up to its $150,000 limit.

  • ||

    Would someone point out to the "if only we could raise taxes" crowd that the high tax states are in generally worse economic straits than the low tax states?

  • ||

    Matt, please keep up the good work!!

    "Only when the fountains of government abundance began to dry up, when through lack of funds and the impossibility of negotiating fresh loans the state was forced to check the extension of bureaucracy and to put a stop to public works, then and only then did the Italians realize what it meant to have allowed themselves to be made one of the most heavily taxed nations in the world." Guglielmo Ferrero, 1898

  • ||

    This article must have been researched by a fantastic intern!

  • 24AheadDotCom||

    I'm confused!

    Why would CA have to spend all that money?

    How could the CA legislature have the PoliticalPower to push through all that spending?

    What happened that gave the far-left so much power so that they could spend so much?

    It's a mystery!

    Oh, wait. I just realized! All those posts I made, detailing how that happened in CA and elsewhere.

    P.S. Sorry for letting reality intrude into Reason's very special world.

    P.P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • Fascitis Necrotizante||

    Eat a dick, Lonewacko.

  • Cal Lipigian||

    At least the papers are consistent. They endorse higher spending and higher taxes. The voters are schizo in that they approve the spending but not the means to pay for it.

  • ad hom||

    Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

    I don't need anyone to show me, it's obvious that your points are childish and anti-intellectual.

  • ||

    "Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature."

    You know, a normal person would wonder why it's so easy to "ad hom" them and try to correct that situation.

  • jk||

    A quibble about the CA bonds. CA voters certainly pass expensive bond measures, but there is no debt connected to a bond until someone buys the bond. Someone who knows how to track this down and isn't as lazy me might want to find out just how much of CA's potential bond debt has actually been purchased.

  • ||

    DirtyMexicans invaded California and AhnoldGuv likes it in the ass and ReasonMag wont ask HardQuestions.

    p.s. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • Peter Orvetti||

    California's budget crisis is all about the failure of direct democracy. Voters get a list of questions saying, "Do you want the government to do this?" and check off yes, yes, yes. Then there's a question, "Can we raise taxes to pay for it?" and they vote no.

  • runescape gold||

    Has discusses it, starts from poetry, the peach blossom entered the poem. "girl of marriageable age, brilliant its China. Marries, suitable its home. The girl of marriageable age, has actually. Marries, suitable his/her husband and wife. The girl of marriageable age, its luxuriant, marries, suitable its family member". This first poem is the early China culture is mature when the good vulgar beautiful foreword performance, is the world overjoyed marriage standard song. The individual life, is only then obtains the real significance under a big background. Is interlinked from the person god, unites (life to the heart and life moves), struggles from the witchcraft, monopolizes the divine will from the sorcerer, is harmonious to the divine intervention and the will of the people, no longer is isolated concentrating on feeling world US, but contains has regarding the human affairs world spontaneous attention, the aware participation, integrates the human affairs world in which. Human affairs world US, is also live, is brimming with the natural breath, is popular US which the onion cage, the secret roam likely. This first poem regarding a good women's's sing, is also talks into her is one stretches is also sharp, enriches the vivid peach blossom, the visible peach blossom, moves Xingfa the natural life, brilliant young, is primitive, plain, the happy expression life feels. Feeling always a lively world life heart.

  • ||

    runescape gold,

    Congratulations. As a phishing spambot you have still managed to contribute more to the debate here with one post than the thousands of retarded posts made by Lonewacko in years of being a monomaniacal troll.

    P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • ||

    The problem is not direct democracy, it's democracy without minority protections. Once people can vote to steal money from other people for their own benefit, the ultimate perverse incentive is born.

    P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • Chad||

    The problem all politicians face is that the vast majority of the electorate wants more spending on just about everything, lower taxes, and reduced deficits.

    In other words, the average voter is a moron.

    In California, where the morons get to set policy almost directly via ballot initiatives, the result has been disasterous.

    Remember, 80% of adults cannot even calculate compound interest. How on earth can we expect these people to understand multi-billion dollar budgets?

  • ..||

    the thousands of retarded posts made by Lonewacko...

    ...and SugarFree.

  • ||

    See. I told you I would just be met with ad homs.

    P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • ||

    thousands of retarded posts

    Let he who is without guilt cast the first stone.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    *pitches stone*

  • ||

    At most, I've only made hundreds of semi-retarded posts... along with thousands of posts so smart you can't stuff them into your brain holes.

    P.S. Any replies to this comment will most likely consist of ad homs, as libertarians concede my points and show their childish, anti-intellectual nature.

  • ||

    At most, I've only made hundreds of semi-retarded posts

    Throw one of those fake sponge rocks then.

  • EllisWyatt||

    "The problem all politicians face is that the vast majority of the electorate wants more spending on just about everything, lower taxes, and reduced deficits."

    More like the average politician THINKS that the electorate wants more spending on just about everything, and is therefore terrified of saying "NO". Many of the Republicans in Congress from 2000 to 2006 fell into this category.

  • Chad||

    More like the average politician THINKS that the electorate wants more spending on just about everything, and is therefore terrified of saying "NO". Many of the Republicans in Congress from 2000 to 2006 fell into this category.

    If you ask people what to cut, you inevitably get a list of things that are so small relative to the whole that they are irrelevant. The vast majority of the federal budget is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense and interest on the debt. While a few hard-core libertarians and Republicans might be willing to throw grandma onto the street, and a few radical lefties would actually make substantial military cuts, these people are few and powerless. A solid majority will not accept serious cuts in any of these programs, and cuts in anything else are too small to matter.

    Likewise with state and local expenditures. Cut teachers? Cops? Quit fixing roads? No no no!

    Worse yet, all of this mess is a result of our idiotic unwillingness to fork over a few more percent of our income in taxes.

  • ||

    One of the problems with government cock-suckers like Chad, who want to "fork over a few more percent of our income in taxes", is that they constantly spew lies like saying that opposition to SS is the same as "be[ing] willing to throw grandma onto the street"

    He must live in California.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    He's projecting, LM. We already know how much Chad hates his grandma.

  • ||

    Worse yet, all of this mess is a result of our idiotic unwillingness to fork over a few more percent of our income in taxes.

    Factually wrong. The problem isn't a shortage of tax receipts, which in CA and elsewhere have been quite healthy. The problem is excess spending; even if taxes had been higher, spending would have still outpaced it because that's just what politicians do.

  • Abner MacGillicuddy||

    "The vast majority of the federal budget is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense and interest on the debt."

    And the funny thing is that since the late 1970s the biggest chunk of the deficit each year has been interest on the debt. Especially during the high interest rate eighties.

    The fact is that the base portion of the debt was accrued pre-1980 thanks to WWII and LBJ's wars on Vietnam and poverty respectively.

    Since 1980 most of the increase in the debt has been due to the magic of compound interest.

    We are long since past any return to fiscal sanity without a long and painful adjustment. The Carter Administration was probably the last chance it was possible. And thanks in large part to The likes of Teddy K and Tip O'Neil it didn't happen.

    O, what the hell it was probably too late anyway. And Carter probably couldn't have pulled it off anyway.

  • LibertyMark||

    The governments of the the United States and of California throughout the 20th century where Great, Ever-Flowing, Teats-in-the-Sky, and millions upon millions of us clamped down on a teat, and proceeded to suck, suck, suck...

    Well, poor Bessie is tired. Her udder is dry; she has become a desiccated husk. It's time to put her down.

  • ||

    Since 1980 most of the increase in the debt has been due to the magic of compound interest.

    Well, at least until this year. There is a massive spike in debt accrued this year and every coming year under the bailouts and Obama spending plans.

  • Chad||

    R C Dean | June 3, 2009, 11:10am | #

    Factually wrong. The problem isn't a shortage of tax receipts, which in CA and elsewhere have been quite healthy. The problem is excess spending; even if taxes had been higher, spending would have still outpaced it because that's just what politicians do.


    That's an odd statement. Too much spending and too little taxes are two sides of the same coin. However, in the US, our tax rates are very low and our spening fairly low relative to the rest of the world, making making my argument more plausible than yours.

    California could solve its problems by taxing an extra $700 per person. Oh no, people might have to drive a slightly less obnoxious SUV! The economy would surely collapse into an nano-atomic dust pile if people had to do that!

  • johnl||

    Hey Matt don't forget redevelopment, which the LAT is also nearly always in favor of. Libertarians frequently complain about redevelopment agencies abuse of ED to take property from people without political connections at below market cost. But it's also a problem that they then sell property to politically connected people at an even lower cost, making up the difference by grabbing property taxes that would otherwise go to other taxing agencies (like the state).

  • Sean W. Malone||

    Chad, you cocksucker.

    I do not drive an SUV, in fact I drive one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the market. Yet every time I fill up my gas-tank, I pay the state of California 50c per gallon. I pay about $300+ a month in taxes as it is as well as another $400 every January when I re-register my car. In addition, I pay 9% on everything I buy and what I get out of all of this is umm.... next to nothing. So first off, you can eat a dick for suggesting I should pony up another $700 so that a state which has done exactly the opposite of what I have voted for & written my elected representatives to do can keep over spending.

    Secondly, no Chad, taxes & spending *aren't* just two sides of the same coin. I understand how you could think that, but in practical reality, an extra $700 from the taxpayers simply encourages government to spend more. Then next year, it's another $700 and the year after that it's an extra $1400...

    It's sad how little you seem to understand how any of this works.

  • Scarpe Nike Italia||

    is good

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