A Tale of Two Governors
Rick Henderson leaps too quickly to make a superficial comparison between Gov. William Weld of Massachusetts and Gov. Pete Wilson of California ("Bigger or Better?", Nov.). The comparison—praising Weld for cutting spending and damning Wilson for raising taxes—is at least a little misleading.
Gov. Weld has done a solid job in trimming spending and holding the line on taxes. But Gov. Wilson has also done a good job of dealing with problems that, in fact, dwarf those confronting the governor of the Bay State.
Wilson inherited a $14.3-billion state budget gap—the largest in American history, bigger than the entire budget of Massachusetts. And while Weld could cut eight years' worth of fat accumulated under Michael Dukakis, Pete Wilson took the reins from another fiscal conservative, George Deukmejian.
California's changing demographics confronted Wilson with a rapidly growing demand for state services. California grew by 6 million people in the 1980s—as if the entire state of Massachusetts packed its bags and plopped down in the Golden State. Every year California has to build schools for an additional 250,000 students—a population the size of the entire Nebraska public school system.
When the budget gap doubled to $14.3 billion, no one offered an alternative to raising at least some taxes, because no one reasonably could. Wilson said repeatedly he could have closed down all state universities, emptied the prisons, eliminated all aid to the elderly, blind and disabled, fired all state employees, and still had a deep budget gap.
The bulk of California's new revenues come from a tax on consumption—the sales tax, the one tax least harmful to investment and job creation. And one-third of that hike is temporary.
Wilson did achieve several major reforms in the budget. He reduced welfare grants, froze them for five years, and reformed the system by raising earnings limits and encouraging welfare recipients to get off the dole and on the job. He also reduced the state work force, is attempting to trim state employee salaries by 5 percent, and began reforming the workers' compensation system.
He also cut the bureaucracy and red tape of government by realigning $2.3 billion in health and social services from the state to the counties. Also, he's establishing a Little Grace Commission to help him find other areas of the budget to cut, reorganize, or privatize.
Wilson has been a fiscal conservative over the years, drawing praise from Howard Jarvis and taxpayer groups. This year he faced down the toughest economic challenge conceivable. All of your readers should take the opportunity to advise the governor's Little Grace Commission on ways to make California government more efficient. I know their support, assistance, and advice would be welcomed by the governor and be beneficial to California.
California Chamber of Commerce
Weld had the easier job when it comes to finding fat to cut. Per-capita state spending following the respective budget agreements is $1,700 per person in California ($51 billion for 30 million people) and $2,150 per person in Massachusetts ($12.7 billion for 5.9 million people). Thus Weld will have to cut spending by another 20 percent just to reach Wilson's current level. If he eventually cuts spending by more than that, then he will definitely be Top Gov.
Daniel J. Ryan
Temple University Japan
Last June, as the legislature balked at his record-breaking tax increase, Pete Wilson warned, "Every day without a budget will cost Californians $11 million in lost revenues." Actually, those "lost revenues" were the additional sales taxes Wilson wanted to raise, but it has become an ironic figure for a different reason. Ninety days into the budget year, every day with Wilson's budget has cost taxpayers $11 million in additional red ink.
Measured against the administration's most optimistic revenue forecasts, California's budget was more than $1 billion in the red three months into the 1992 fiscal year; measured against the original budget, the deficit is closer to $2.6 billion. At the same point in last year's budget fiasco, red ink amounted to "only" $287 million.
During the budget debate, several legislators warned Wilson that his budget was on a collision course with economic disaster. Last June 28, on the floor of the Assembly, I said: "As sales decline, as layoffs increase, as small businesses which are barely holding on now are forced to close their doors—the revenue projections under this and other tax increases are bound to decline substantially, and we'll be back here, possibly by early spring, to deal with growing budget shortfalls."
We argued that instead of cutting the average family budget with more than $1,000 of new taxes, state government should do what millions of Californians were already doing: tighten its belt and live within its means. In April, I proposed some $27 billion of spending cuts—only half of which would have been necessary to avoid any new taxes. Unfortunately, the reforms were largely ignored, and those of us who had issued these repeated warnings were dismissed as "alarmists," "obstructionists," and "cavemen."
The worst is yet to come. Despite $8 billion of new taxes, from July to September actual receipts declined 0.6 percent. To keep up with revenue projections, in the final quarter of the current fiscal year revenue must grow by 26 percent.
Assemblyman, 36th District
Mr. Henderson replies: California's deficit was bigger than the Bay State's in dollars and as a percentage of the total budget. But in percentage terms, both were substantial: Massachusetts's budget was about 14 percent in the red; California's was 25 percent. Still, from his first days in office, William Weld cut taxes and spending. Pete Wilson started new spending programs virtually before the inauguration parade ended.
The eight years of "lean and mean management" by George Deukmejian produced the same illusory budget cuts we got from the two Reagan terms in Washington. State spending more than doubled under Deukmejian's watchful eye. Pete Wilson has been no more frugal. Spending went up by 10 percent in this year's budget. Wilson raised taxes by $8 billion to pay for $6 billion in new spending. And The New Republic reports that the state lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs from June 1990 to November of last year. During that time, state and local governments hired 50,000 more employees.
Mr. West's letter reminds me of the spanking scene in Animal House, in which the fraternity pledges drop their pants, grab their ankles, and each time the paddle strikes say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" The serenity with which the state's business establishment has accepted, if not embraced, higher taxes and more stifling regulations from the Wilson administration amazes me. The California Chamber should pay attention to its supply-side-oriented colleagues at the U.S. Chamber in Washington.
Mr. West's letter also follows a recurring pattern among Wilson's defenders: Make believe no one presented an alternative to tax increases. Assemblyman McClintock and his fellow "cavemen" had ideas on the table; the big spenders in the administration didn't want to consider them.
Professor Ryan correctly points out that government spending is higher per capita in Massachusetts than in California. Far from being an endorsement of either Wilson or Weld, this merely indicates there is plenty of cutting for both governors to do.
As a 15-year veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous, I feel I should comment on the characterization of A.A. members as "12-step evangelists" ("A.A. Abuse," Nov.). Some new members are evangelistic, but this is not uncommon among new members of any organization, especially one which people feel has saved their lives. Most believe in the slogan "attraction, not promotion." I have been to hundreds of meetings in a dozen cities and have never witnessed coercion or evangelism. A.A. is open to all who want to help and excludes no one, but runs no membership drives.
The article argues that, increasingly, courts violate people's rights by "sentencing" them to attend A.A. meetings. But this policy also causes problems for A.A. groups, whose members are simply trying to stay sober.
Many of my friends in A.A. disapprove of this judicial coercion, but what can we do? By our own canons, we cannot turn anyone away. If a person wants to attend an A.A. meeting, he or she is welcome—even when these persons are "sentencees" who make it quite clear that they are there under coercion.
Even if the national A.A. has a policy forbidding members there under judicial coercion, an A.A. group can ignore the policy. Any member who disagrees with one group can form another one. Short of disrupting a meeting, members are free to do whatever they please. A.A. is the most libertarian organization I have ever encountered.
The government has once again placed decent people in a dilemma. Our compassion wars with our principles. We ask for no funds nor any support from anyone. But the state will not leave us alone.
Name Withheld by Request
Three Oaks, MI
Having realized more than 23 years of continuous sobriety as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I take exception to many of the points in "A.A. Abuse." Some of these arguments misstate the principles stated in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
For example, the article states that "A.A. treatment is a process of spiritual conversion that requires submission to a 'higher power' (a.k.a. God)." The third tradition of A.A. says, "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking." The "a.k.a. God" should instead read "s.k.a. (sometimes known as) God." Some of us are atheists.
The article's contention that people are forced into A.A. is completely alien to the principles of the organization. When your article says, "The A.A. model, which uses a spiritual approach to treat the 'disease' of alcoholism, would not have as pervasive an influence under conditions of free choice," whose model is this? Nowhere in the steps or traditions of A.A. is force suggested nor is alcoholism defined as a disease.
Marty Mann and others who use A.A. to promote themselves do not abide by the eighth tradition, which suggests that "A.A. should remain forever nonprofessional. We define professionalism as the occupation of counseling alcoholics for fees or hire." Nor do they abide by the 11th tradition, which suggests that "we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films." The "self-righteous," the "evangelists," the "counselors" are individuals, not A.A. itself.
Archie Brodsky and Stanton Peele did an excellent report with some fine recommendations. But there were a few flaws. Among them:
1) Alcoholics Anonymous is involved in none of the abuses listed.
2) There is no such thing as "A.A. treatment."
3) A.A. does not endorse, finance, or lend its name to the National Council on Alcoholism, or any outside enterprise, including treatment programs. The fact that these organizations lend their names to A.A. is not a fault of A.A. or its members.
The authors have unfortunately accepted the illusion that A.A. is in some way akin to those many government and private entrepreneurs who have parasitically attached themselves to Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. is successful because it is not allied with any other organization, has no governing authorities, accepts no outside donations, and guarantees that you can come and go anonymously. No one has the right to report to someone else that you've been to a meeting.
Several of us A.A. long-timers have a standing offer: If you come to A.A. from a court or an institution and you need a signature to verify your attendance, we will sign for you. And we will provide all the signatures you need for the duration of your "treatment." You need not attend the meeting. You only "have" to come back if you wish to do so under A.A.'s third tradition: a desire to stop drinking.
Des Moines, IA
Therer is nothing wrong with A.A., but there is definitely something awry with the people who repackage the A.A. program in greedy, for-profit treatment programs, and something is wrong with the people who view those programs as a cure-all for the suffering alcoholic.
Our society seeks quick-fix solutions to problems such as alcoholism. We look at an individual with problems and, if he or she drinks at all, we label that person an alcoholic. We then try to fix that person, often forcibly, to "get them out of our hair." Then we can smugly go about our business, secure in the knowledge that we have done our part.
I am a recovering alcoholic with a fair amount of sobriety under my belt. I knew I had a problem with alcohol. I tried everything—religion, est, T.M., psychologists, hospitalization, Rolfing, exercise, voluntary treatment. Then I was forced into treatment by relatives and later by the courts. You know what? I still drank. None of the quick fixes worked!
Often I am asked to chair an A.A. meeting. I go through the usual introductory material, then ask, "Are there any court-appointed people who would really rather be somewhere else? If so, bring up your slip, I'll sign it, and you can be on your way."
I'm only speaking for myself, but I say to the courts: Stop sending people to A.A. We don't want them. They disrupt our meetings. They're royal pains. We don't want anybody who doesn't want to be there!
The 12 steps of A.A. offer a program of living that everybody, alcoholics and nonalcoholics alike, could use. They tell us to take responsibility for our own lives and to stop blaming others for our plight; when we are wrong or have wronged someone to promptly admit it; to be honest with ourselves and others; to stop taking life so seriously and feel we are the center of the universe; that we simply have to do our best and let go of the rest.
There is nothing wrong with A.A.
Grand Junction, CO
"A.A. Abuse" argues that judges are ordering people into A.A. or into treatment centers at an increasing rate. What alternative does the court system have? It can sentence repeat offenders to prison—that institution run by criminologists and psychologists. Prison keeps some offenders off the streets for a while, but even that is questionable punishment for an alcohol or drug offender. Most likely, this person will come out with an education in criminal techniques and a resentment at society for what "it" did to him.
A Schick hospital in Fort Worth operated on a secular scientific medical model of treatment. It advertised a 10-day treatment plan "with a couple of two-day follow-ups."
Their method of treatment gave the patient a drug which produced violent reactions, including vomiting, every time he ingested alcohol. Then the staff gave the patient his favorite drink.
This method is called aversion therapy. It is a classical psychologist's dream. No faith in a "higher power" is involved. No dependence on group support. No mention of God. Just straight, secular psychological science.
Well, that hospital is out of business, while those treatment centers based on the A.A. model are thriving. The thousands of newcomers coming to A.A. through the courts and the treatment centers are coming because A.A. works. I believe Mr. Brodsky and Dr. Peele would have nothing but praise for a judge who sentenced drug and alcohol offenders to the psychiatrist's couch.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors are licensed and regulated by the state. It is amazing how some would rather send those in need of help to licensed, regulated professionals whose methods get poor results rather than an unregulated, private fellowship whose methods get amazing results.
James W. Byrd
Flower Mound, TX
Mr. Brodsky and Dr. Peele reply: We have no quarrel with those who choose to go to A.A., and we accept the personal validity of their belief that A.A. has helped them. We also sympathize with A.A. members' objections to the imposition of coerced clients on their voluntary organization. Signing people's cards whether or not they attend is a reasonable response to this imposition, but it would be better to inform the court that it is against A.A.'s traditions to participate in coercion.
Although many in A.A. subscribe to its voluntaristic traditions, it is an oversimplification to set A.A. apart from the (in George K.'s words) "government and private entrepreneurs who have parasitically attached themselves" to it. Many of these true believers who coerce people into A.A. are themselves involved in A.A., and their fanaticism is fed by the self-righteous, conformist atmosphere of some A.A. meetings, as described firsthand in sociologist David Rudy's book Becoming Alcoholic.
James Byrd's complacent assumption that A.A. and A.A.-based treatment get good results is unwarranted. Such claims, based on unrepresentative personal testimonials, are refuted by comparative research. Mr. Byrd is equally wrong to infer that we support court-mandated psychiatric treatment. Our recommendations emphasized practical skills training, not psychotherapy. And our article stated clearly that society's role is to hold people accountable for unlawful behavior, not to dictate specific treatments. We focused on mandated A.A. attendance because the violation of religious freedom is especially egregious. Whatever the merits of prison vs. other sanctions, the courts are the appropriate place to deal with criminal behavior, which includes reckless driving, let alone the violence perpetrated by the amoral "killer drunk."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".