Defenders of a politician's right to spend have been abandoning the trenches and quietly fleeing for much of this year. To its credit, the Los Angeles Times editorial board has chosen to acknowledge clearly and publicly that out-of-control spending, not insufficient tax revenue, is suffocating the Golden State.
In fact, one of the best metaphors ever to spring from the perspicacious pen of the ed board has now been retired. When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008 was seeking to introduce automatic spending caps and larger rainy-day funds, the Times invoked the Terminator franchise to argue against what it viewed as an infringement of the legislature's discretion to make budget decisions:
The Budget Stabilization Act nearly removes the human element from self-government. It is budgetary Skynet, marketed as a program smarter than the people it supposedly serves but destined to strip from people the benefits, as well as the burdens, of financial decision-making. A better future for California will come when voters and elected officials begin to make tough choices, not when they shrug their shoulders and relinquish their power to a budget machine.
Now, however, the Times concedes that it is "putting aside [its] past reluctance" and conceding the necessity of automated budgeting:
The state must continue to invest in the social welfare of its people, but we must do it in accordance with California's projected growth so that we do not repeatedly yank from the young, the elderly and the poor the very services that we provided only a year or two before.
Don't think this means the paper will now be getting worked up about excessive taxation of Californians. Today's long editorial contains a call for "rational governmental restructuring" that includes the Free Spenders' longstanding goal of allowing the legislature to pass budgets with a straight majority rather than the currently required two-thirds majority. It also accuses Proposition 13—the 1978 property-tax-restricting measure—of helping to "defund government." (Here's a reminder of how, decades after Prop 13's passage, this same defunded government managed to grow its budget by more than 40 percent over a period of five years.) But it's a welcome acknowledgment that the only way to get a balanced budget is to stop spending.
Today's editorial. The original Skynet piece. And here is a thoughtful unpacking of the Skynet metaphor—as well as a Ph.D.-worthy thesis on free will and predestination in the Terminator movies — from the incomparable Robert Greene.