Government Spending

California's Political/Journalistic Class = Fail

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Now that California's political elite has been thoroughly repudiated at the polls, get ready for a vicious backlash…against the citizens. Take this witheringly sarcastic and petulant editorial in the Sacramento Bee, a paper that (like most in California) utterly failed to convince voters of the virtues of saying Yes.

California political cartooning, personified

Good morning, California voters. Do you feel better, now that you've gotten that out of your system? […]

The point is that you're sick and tired of all this political mumbo-jumbo. So you showed those politicians who's in charge. You. You're now officially in charge – of a state that will be something like $25 billion in the hole for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

So, now that you've put those irksome politicians in their place, maybe it's time to think about this: Since you're in charge, exactly what do you intend to do about that pesky $25 billion hole in the budget?

It goes on and on like that. This L.A. Times "news analysis" captures the spirit right in the headline: "California voters exercise their power—and that's the problem." That article also contains what might be the unofficial motto of all but two editorial boards in the state:

In the Proposition 13 tax rebellion of 1978, Californians voted to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to raise taxes, a major obstacle to budget agreements.

Or, as LAT state-politics columnist George Skelton put it,

the biggest obstacle of all for the Legislature is the inane two-thirds majority vote requirement for passage of virtually any money bill—spending or taxes. The voters signed off on that gridlock-inducing system.

Note the underlying axiom: "Budget agreements" and avoiding "gridlock" are the end-all, be-all of California politics, even if the budgets continue to expand and expand and expand every damned year without any noticeable increase in the quality or quantity of government services. And for those voters who don't grasp the sheer Gravity of it all? Contempt.

It's not that the initiative process hasn't produced all kinds of terrible policy in California; it has. But the sheer disproportionality of the blame-the-voter analysis reveals what close readers have long suspected is true: The Golden State's political class has long since given up agitating for government growth to be pared back even to the growth rate of inflation-plus-population. They treat massive public-sector pensions as a given, shudder with revulsion even at the mere scare-mention of a tiny percentage of state workers getting laid off, and pin the burden of proof not on the politicians who shovel up crappy new budget gimmicks, but rather on the voters who sensibly tell them to get stuffed. As the "Popular Comment" attached to that SacBee editorial put it,

What an obnoxious editorial. Nevertheless, it illustrates that the Bee is completely in favor of bigger government and higher taxes. Well, guess what. If you want us to buy your paper, then you had better have an editorial policy more in line with the thinking of Californians. Your parent company hasn't been doing so well economically and it will probably continue to lose money, especially with the demeaning attitude toward voters so clearly shown here.

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  1. Time for the IMF to take control of California and set its finances straight.

  2. Since you’re in charge, exactly what do you intend to do about that pesky $25 billion hole in the budget?

  3. Not that I think editorial policy should always be dictated by “what’s popular”, but are these newspapers completely tone-deaf? The numbers Cavanaugh posted earlier showed complete and total drubbings for the Props, and now these editorials are basically going to insult their readership?

    One has to wonder: if the 2/3rds majority requirement is supposedly preventing California from fixing its budget problems, shouldn’t that same 2/3rds requirement have prevented California from digging the hole its in in the first place?

  4. For a start, fire 60% of state employees, by lottery.

    Then, sell tickets to a “reality” show in which schwarzzenegger is chased to death by taxpayers and jump-suit clad wrestlers. Where have I seen that before?

  5. Anon – and Richard Dawson is still alive! He can make his comeback we’ve all been waiting for.

  6. The people of California are clearly not worthy of their government.

  7. California voters exercise their power — and that’s the problem.

    Everybody loves democracy when it’s fucking over the other guy.

  8. Sigh. Okay, send me the budget, and I’ll get them back in the black.

  9. Can’t we just sell California? Maybe to China, or the Saudis?

  10. You can just feel the snootiness from the two editorials. Wow.

  11. So what does the Orange County Register have to say today? Don’t make me look it up, people.

  12. How is the Sacramento Bee going to get a bailout if they oppose ever-bigger government?

  13. While it’s quite obvious that the papers incorrectly think that the problem is not one of spending, but of taxing, they are absolutely correct when they point (give?) the finger at who is ultimately to blame: the California voting citizenry.

    You fuckwits voted for all of these pinheads and their promises of free ponies. Deal with it or elect a legislature with some balls.

  14. God that’s pathetic. Time to open a paper in Cali. I bet a few papers will be losing readership or maybe burning to the ground.

  15. And then there’s this:
    orangepunch.freedomblogging.com/2009/05/19/heres-an-idea-bankruptcy/9521/

  16. I love it. The voters of California have spoken, and these jackasses think that there’s something wrong with it? No wonder so many newspapers are dieing out.

  17. Suggestions:

    1. Mirror other state budgets. Texas, for example, spends MUCH less per citizen than we do. Lower our spending to match.

    2. Immediately cease all Federally mandated programs that are not funded by Washington. When the Feds complain, fight this in court.

    3. Institute massive marketing effort to bring back business to California. We must be the absolutely easiest State in the Union in which to do business.

    4. Change the California Constitution so ALL programs are sunsetted. Nothing goes on forever.

    5. Demand Federal reimbursement for services to illegal immigrants. After lengthy research, I believe the net cost is more than $6 Billion annually. California bears this burden due to failed Federal Border control.

    6. Roll back state employee levels to those before Arnold was elected. During his tenure the State payroll grew by thousands while total legal residents declined.

    7. Adjust all state employee compensation to match other states, such as Texas. Many here are highly overpaid. For example, it recently was revealed the EMTs in Moraga, California were making over $200,000 a year!

    8. Cease all non-basic programs such global warming abatement and state attempts at healthcare reform. These need to be argued at the Federal level. Involvement at the State level is a luxury and a waste of resources.

    9. Reduce teacher employment by increasing classroom size. Couple this with enforced codes of conduct to make these larger classes easier to manage.

    10. Lease offshore petroleum extraction. This will bring in a Billion or so every year.

    If these suggests violate anyone’s sense of entitlement or purity, you may wish to consider immigration. Say, to France, where over 80 percent of their power is nuclear.

  18. Pro Libertate, while you’re at it do you want to do my taxes as well?

    That SacBee (SB) article was beautifully idiotic! It looks like in the case of Cali Newspapers commutativity applies SB=BS.

    Who needs readership when you have the government? Given CA’s current state, I would say they have a great business model.

    What is even worse is that the Feds are going to bail CA out, and I’ll end up contributing to the state coffers and union pockets.

  19. And now we have Tomcat666, who comes along to blame the decline of newspapers on pro-government editoral policies.

    To him and like-minded cats (and in light of my previous links) I offer this:
    http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_11962398

  20. The California government has the advantage of knowing that the budget approval process (2/3 vote) is ultimately a meaningless check on government spending. Once the money is spent it can’t be unspent. Since govenrments can run debts and deficits in the first place, they must be paid at some point or it will end in epic fail.

    They will be bailed out, and everyone knows it. The only solution is for the voters to ban public debt or deficit spending all together, which will obviously not happen

  21. Sorry, Matt. I now see that I did not have to look up the OCR editorial, but could have clicked on your link.

  22. While it’s fun to pick on the gol-durn elites, it’s worth pointing a fingerbone of shame or two at the voters themselves, who consistently vote for lower taxes and greater public spending. Arnold’s had so many defeats it’s tough to keep track, but remember that his first losses started when he actually did try to cut spending.

    Voters vote in Democrats to increase spending and vote in Republicans to cut taxes. And then they wonder why things aren’t going so well. I’d love to see a candidate make specific promises about cutting spending and then actually get elected. But don’t hold your breath.

  23. Hey! My paper recommended against all the propositions! So don’t yell at me. Except we’re a little paper and nobody cares what we say.

    Being immersed and both the media and California government, it strikes me how similar the attitude is: Both entities think the public is incapable of making their own decisions and are unable to survive without them. Look at how similar the arguments are from media pundits who whine about how we’ll all be living in darkness and ignorance without newspapers with those who argue how we’re all going to die in poverty on the street without the government’s helping hand.

  24. The Bee benefits directly from advocating more state government – the Bee’s owner, McClatchy, will be getting a nice tax break from the state of Washington in order to help “save” the newspapers.

  25. Let them throw their snits. It just makes it that much more sweet.

  26. In the Proposition 13 tax rebellion of 1978, Californians voted to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to raise taxes, a major obstacle to budget agreements

    Oh, boy. Now I know what we have to look forward to here in WA state. In 2000 we voted in I-695, which replaced the highway robbery vehicle registration fees with fixed $30 car tabs. Virtually every news editorial predicted doom, and they’ve been whining about it ever since. I’m guessing they’ll never let it die.

  27. Rush Limbaugh talked about this post on air a few minutes ago. Good stuff.

  28. The facts are not going away, regardless of snotty comments or not. Californians want the services and do not want to pay for them. It may be a blame game for you. Expect real bleeding?
    Can we Identify the problems on a balence sheet? Here is one of, say 60.
    Don’t you love the 3 strikes law as one example: they are talking about trying to pawn off California prisoners to the Federal government/and Localities. This is insanity.
    It is dream talk. Do you really think the other 49 states are going to bail you out? Rush Limbaugh was never an accountant, and actors Governors where never bean counters.

  29. Sigh. Okay, send me the budget, and I’ll get them back in the black.

    Can I help? I’m very good at identifying unessential government functions. I can also ID job classifications that receive far too much remuneration for functions performed.

  30. I notice that only one comment pointed out the real problem with the voters – wanting services and not wanting to pay for them. The voters get to veto the taxes, but not the programs that they pay for. We have the same problems here in Arizona and the same result – a budget stalemate with no money for programs that are mandated by citizen initiatives but for which the voters won’t approve taxes. There’s gotta be a way to tie these things together. TANSTAAFL

  31. In the Proposition 13 tax rebellion of 1978, Californians voted to require a two-thirds approval by the Legislature to raise taxes, a major obstacle to budget agreements

    Only if you think that spending cuts are out of bounds.

    Do you really think the other 49 states are going to bail you out?

    The other states won’t, but the feds will.

  32. That was so whiny, it could be on Feministing.

  33. Wait, I though democracy was a bad thing. That’s what all the freedom lovers tell me.

  34. That was so whiny, it could be on Feministing.

    Off topic, but I somehow ended up on that site the other day (don’t ask) and witnessed a commenter get dressed down by the monitors for calling someone lame. Apparently lame is “ableist”. Someone else made a comment thinking it was a joke, and was threatened with a ban by the creator of the site.

  35. J sub D,

    Sure. Just let me rip it in half. You take the top part; I’ll take the bottom.

  36. I say start by firing 50% of government employees.

    Start with the legislature and all their aides.

  37. You know how every so often, you read a story about a guy who won umpty-million dollars in the lottery three years ago, and he declared bankruptcy today? Clearly the problem is that the guy didn’t receive enough money in the first place, and thus he needs to be given more.

  38. Dear Sacramento Bee,

    It would be a shame if something were to happen to your little paper.

    Regards.

  39. Please stop using successist terms like “Fail.”

  40. There’s gotta be a way to tie these things together.

    There was talk of requiring coupling a means of funding with any initiative in Florida a few years back after a class size amendment an a high speed rail plan were passed.

    Fortunately the rail thing was rescinded in a later election but the class size requirement is still with us but it’s never been fully implemented because the state has never been able to find the funds for it.

  41. Alan Vanneman @11:30 FTW in my opinion…

    Back in Nov. of last year I wrote a piece about this, but basically every single thing on the ballot last election which would have saved CA money was voted down, everything that was exceedingly expensive, the voters seemed to love – and now, when the state wants to raise taxes to pay for all the crap that people “want”, everyone votes down new taxes.

    Being the consistent jerk that I am, I vote against new taxes AND against spending more…

    Plus, the hilarious part was, there were a lot of things on last years election that in tandem would have saved tons of money.

    e.g.

    I voted Yes to:
    Prop 5, which lowered sentencing requirements for non-violent drug offenders and was supposed to save the state around $2.5 Billion a year in incarceration costs…

    …and No on:
    Prop 6 which increased funding to police enforcement of criminal laws…

    To me, that’s a no-brainer – there’s no need to give more money to the police when instead you can take some non-violent drug offenders off their hands and out of the system… Savings + no increases anywhere else + fewer unnecessary people in jail = Win, Win, Win.

    The rest of the voters disagreed…

    They also decided they wanted to spend billions on a new train, new rules on animal husbandry, money for the children… etc. All crap.

    All that we could really hope to do now, honestly, is get some politicians who actually say “Fuck you voters, we know you wanted all this stuff but too bad… Can’t afford it”, and also not propose more stupid spending initiatives in the future… Oh, and make some very serious cuts right now.

  42. Did anyone else notice that the sacbee column has been removed and replaced with a different one?

  43. I think I’m going to put a space elevator on the Florida ballot next time around.

  44. Nice to see the papers’ moral bankruptcy equal their financial bankruptcy.

    I wouldn’t buy a car from a bankrupt automaker, I wouldn’t listen to an endorsement from a bankrupt newspaper.

  45. and Richard Dawson is still alive! He can make his comeback we’ve all been waiting for.

    He can give Arnie a kiss. Of Death!

  46. Back in Nov. of last year I wrote a piece about this, but basically every single thing on the ballot last election which would have saved CA money was voted down, everything that was exceedingly expensive, the voters seemed to love – and now, when the state wants to raise taxes to pay for all the crap that people “want”, everyone votes down new taxes.

    You’re merely pointing out the dishonesty of the propositions to begin with.

    If the propositions explained the NEW program AND the NEW source of funds, the propositions would be honest. Likewise, any proposed spending cut should explain where the corresponding cut in taxes/fees comes from.

    Calling fraud a democracy doesn’t make it a democracy.

  47. I notice that only one comment pointed out the real problem with the voters – wanting services and not wanting to pay for them.

    That’s not really at the heart of California’s problems. The problem is most Californians want to achieve what they see as lofty goals like a spotless environment; absolute equality in public schools; world-class universities; well-paid teachers, police, and fireman. And have no interest at all in spending their time following up on how government is actually doing in ostensibly working toward those goals.

  48. You’re right Russ, it’s all really obscured by how this stuff is sold to voters.

    Typically, as with 1a & b ads flooding the radio the last few weeks, it’s all; “Prop N saves the state money in the future by making sure legislators balance the budget and support our children.”

    I’m rather surprised by the results actually on this one because of the high volume of ads like that I’ve heard every day lately… I’d have really thought that CA voters would go; “Oohhh, well if it’s for the children… Sure!”

  49. “I think I’m going to put a space elevator on the Florida ballot next time around.”

    I can’t see that as being any more of a financial drain than half of the other initiatives I see.

    Actually, my problem with the initiative process is that it involves amending the constitution and, frankly, most of the things that get on the ballot, while they may be worthy of legislative consideration, are not the kinds of thing I think should be enshrined in the state’s supreme governing document.

  50. Isaac,

    I can’t stand the trend towards making state constitutions into “superlegislation.” Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the constitution as a structural framework, doesn’t it?

    Except for the Florida Space Elevator, of course.

  51. if the 2/3rds majority requirement is supposedly preventing California from fixing its budget problems, shouldn’t that same 2/3rds requirement have prevented California from digging the hole its in in the first place?

    No. It’s a 2/3 majority to raise a tax, but only a regular majority to spend money. The flaw is obvious.

  52. This is the first step down the road to the only thing that will save California in the long-run – a bankruptcy filing. The next disaster to face California is the pension bomb (no, make that nuclear bomb) that the legislature and governor put in place 8 years ago.

    It’s time to clean out all the bad decisions and the only way to do that is through a statewide bankruptcy. Let’s only hope the President stays out of it and doesn’t bail these sorry excuses for politicians out one more time.

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