Government Spending

More Blaming the Minority, California Style

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In 2002, California Democrats won all eight statewide electoral offices for the first time since the 19th century. The party has controlled the State Senate since 1970 (currently enjoying a 25-15 advantage there), and the State Assembly (where it has a 49-29-1 edge) for 37 of those 39 years, including the last 13 consecutive. Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by around 44 percent to 31 percent; the state has voted Democratic in the last five presidential elections, both U.S. senators have been Democratic since 1992, and in the last half-century the California caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives has been Democratic for all but one session.

So! You'll never guess who longtime L.A. labor toady Harold Meyerson is blaming for a budget deal this week so savage that it scaled back spending all the way back to 2005:

Old Weird Harold

The most basic principle of any democracy is that of majority rule, with minority rights running a clear but close second. Simple though this precept may be, California seems to have gotten it backward. The budget deal that emerged from Sacramento on Monday was the result of minority rule […]

Republicans…decided to close a $26-billion shortfall entirely through gimmicks and cutbacks, and the state's Constitution gave them the power to game the situation to their advantage.

Left unmentioned in Meyerson's minority report: The fact that California voters, by an average margin of 30 percentage points, rejected a more union/Meyerson-friendly cocktail of tax/fee increases this May at the ballot box, despite the "Yes" side (which was supported by Republican Gov. Schwarzenegger, among others) outspending the opposition by seven to one. Surely that has some relevance? As does the fact that public sector unions, and the Democratic Party they influence, have helped jack up the state's annual contributions to the CalPERS pension fund from $321 million in 2000-2001 to $7.3 billion. And the fact that the powerful prison guards union helped increase state incarceration spending by 75 percent in five years. Also, enough Republicans peeled away from the Insane Clown Caucus to pass budget "fixes" as recently as…this February.

Meyerson is right about one thing, though–the draconian budget cuts are a crude failure of governance. If you accept the existence of a social safety net, then surely times of economic woe are when you use the thing, not hack it in half. Problem is, thanks to Meyersonian politics, California, like virtually all 50 states, went on a spending binge when times were good, without the kind of noticeable improvement in services that would build public support for higher taxes and fees.

Back in 2003, when the state faced similar dire straits, the California-based Reason Foundation, which is the nonprofit that publishes this website and associated magazine, proposed a "Citizens' Budget" [PDF] that would have covered the massive shortfall and even produced a surplus without cutting vital services and while spending even more money on education. One of the great failures of Schwarzenegger's term in office is that he abandoned the kind of forward-thinking reforms in the Citizens' Budget just as soon as unions hounded him into a humiliating ballot-box defeat in 2005. The best that can be said about the current crap-sandwich is that it might shut down some truly odious government programs (such as various eminent domain-abusing redevelopment agencies), it puts off for the moment job-killing tax hikes, and it fires a political shot across the bow of free-spending politicians elsewhere, including in the White House. It is, in every sense of the word, a shame that things had to come to this.

Let's give the last word to Meyerson, since I'm sure we'll continue hearing similar talk on the federal level going forward:

Californians need to amend their state Constitution, in convention if need be, to end the practice of minority rule. Democracy—not to mention the future of the state—depends on it.