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Passing The Borrowed Buck

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Wow! The new Blogcritics site! Real futuristic! I dig the fins!

But I digress. I did have a reason for posting, so I should get to it.

One of the worst recent political disasters Californians have imposed upon themselves was the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California. The reason he is one of the worst is that he refuses to use his star power to break up the legislative logjam we Californians know as the State Legislature. Arnold would rather increase California's indebtedness than confront the high priests of political privilege over their irresponsible expenditure of precious tax revenue.

Both parties share in the blame for the Legislature's malfeasance, since both sought to stabilize their relative power through redistricting (read:horse-trading) safe seats for each other. This has negated any movement toward dealing with California's many important needs.

Because neither party wants to be the one to upset the horse-apple cart, the best budget that they could enact only came about when Arnold called the party leaders into his office and got them to hammer out a passable compromise. This passable compromise — a sell-out of the voters of California — essentially dumped the tough decisions about what to cut and how much upon the people of California. Is that the best he could do? we think not!

Unfortunately, the voters of California are only offered a few limited choices among which to select for fiscal pruning, and have to make these decisions based on faulty and deliberately misleading information. The Governor's office chose only to issue a statement of the "available" budget choices – which noticeably did not include the police, fire, or private business subsidies hidden away in the darkest recesses of the deal. This perfidious political protocol did not, however, protect the prisons, public health, or education – things that directly benefit the public – from the newly-sharpened budget knife. KXTV Channel 10 in Sacramento, California found this to be so, stating in a recent report that "… the hardest hit areas would likely be education, and the prison system, possibly including early releases for inmates." Certainly, expediency and a desire to retain their seats prevents legislators from taking responsibility for unpopular acts.

I'm not naive enough to believe that these specific budget items shouldn't be examined for spending cuts, but I tend to agree with Ballotpedia's revelation of the sleight of hand at work with Prop 1A: "Although the measure is characterized as a limitation on state spending, it does not cap the amount of revenues that could be collected by the state or the amount of spending that could occur." This fact alone stands as mute indictment of the legislators' attempt to evade their responsibilities to the people of California.

A bad bill is still a bad bill. I tend to agree with The ex-Hollywood Liberal, who states his opposition to Prop 1A's State "Rainy Day" reserve as "nothing more than another pot of money to feed the big government monster." Allow me to provide an example which would fit this description.

Central Valley farmers are currently clamoring for relief from environmental water usage regulations and regulations, and they will expect their pet "conservatives" in the Legislature to ensure that they get their way – at public expense – as was past practice. The most likely way the necessary funds would be raised would be to hike the user fees for water customers in a manner which doesn't require the legislature to take any action. If the benefiting farmers truly believed in the free market, they would find ways to compete in it. Stiffing their work force on their wages is already a current and on-going strategy, so lowering their expenses in other ways is now all they could do. Changing the ways they waste water would be a wonderful way to begin, but as long as they can pilfer the public purse to cover their willful ignorance, this isn't going to happen.

But then, an ignorant public suits private business concerns. The nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office announced in early March that tax revenues are down significantly. California's government appropriated $8 billion more for education than realized by tax revenue. Ergo, in the on-going effort to avoid their benefactors paying for a public benefit in which they share, attacking education is a constant goal of the lapdogs of "private" enterprise, the Republicans. Blaming the teachers for the high costs of education is a frequent tactic used by them, but it's clear that those who advocate reducing teacher salaries as a solution don't teach. The job is so frustrating that many teachers have gone into other lines of work rather than continue as teachers. Usually, it's the good teachers you don't want to lose who leave. (Disclosure: many of my relatives are teachers, and this observation comes from their reports)

In many cases, I'd rather see the overpaid-and-under-productive administrators get their bloated salaries cut. Look at former LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer, who demanded $500,000 to leave. A member of the LAUSD Board described Brewer as "[saying] all the right things, but the issue was … his lack of follow-through." And you still want to blame the teachers?

A bad bill is still a bad bill, and I turn again to The ex-Hollywood Liberal: "… cuts to education made now will be added back to the education budget later and taxpayers will receive the bill…"

Let's take a moment to examine the false solution of charter schools. Public education has been one of the best bargains the American taxpayer ever funded, and misguided efforts to gut that system will only result in a very expensive blowback. As charter schools have the right and ability to select the students they will accept, there is an inevitability that the slowest and most-unruly will quickly fall out of favor. Without even a semblance of a public school system to take them, just what are they to do? Stay home? Too many of these kids don't have adequate adult supervision now!

Inevitably, many of these kids will get into serious trouble, necessitating the involvement of the criminal justice system. As this sector is also already underfunded and over-tasked with protecting the public, you, the taxpayer, will be expected to cover those increased costs. So you get to make a choice here. Pay now for adequate school facilities and staff, or instead have to pay for more prisons and the guards to staff them. Unfortunately, Prop 1B is not the solution to this dilemma. It will only make things worse across the board.

Spinning the wheel to Prop 1C, let's toss the loaded dice and see show what card is hiding up the sleeve. A bad bill is still a bad bill. As Ballotpedia properly notes: "Proposition 1C would authorize borrowing against future lottery proceeds as a way to avoid state government spending cuts." California's legislators must not be paying attention to the drop in lottery revenue, or they wouldn't be so quick to make promises to pay debts out of that fund.

Subjective observation on my part indicates that Lotto revenues are down during these trying times, as the jackpots increase less every time no one wins than it used to. If people aren't playing now, there is no way to assure that funding will be there when it is needed in the future as a result. The ex-Hollywood Liberal again cuts the cards: "'modernizing' means increasing the public debt by writing IOU's in the name of California taxpayers". Amen, Brother! Your deal!

Nor should the Legislature be offering to sell portions of the lottery to private vendors. The only possibility for a safe and secure game is one run by a publicly accountable entity. Selling off the lottery is a recipe for graft and corruption worse than we already have. Have you forgotten Enron already? Prop 1C: truly a bad deal off the bottom of the deck.

Public health is currently on the public mind as the swine flu scare runs its course. But what if there were no funds to cover reduction of the spread of the disease? Young children and the elderly are both more like as groups to succumb to contagious diseases, and a while back the California voters chose to tax tobacco to fund children's health.

Now, the Legislature wants Prop 1D to allow them to abrogate their responsibility toward the future voters of California and take that funding away to cover other bad choices they have made. Had this happened before SCHIP passed at the federal level, the already-strapped hospitals of California would increasingly be forced to close. SCHIP having passed will only slow this process somewhat. Blaming the nursing staff doesn't address the problem, as nursing staffs have already taken huge wage hits. (Disclosure: many of my relatives are RNs) The higher-paid RNs have generally been replaced with lower-wage LPNs, VNs, or assistants, yet the costs of hospital care continue to skyrocket. Doctors themselves find their fees undercut by insurance industry pressure for loser costs, yet their medical school loans demand repayment no matter what. Only the insurance companies report profits under such a scam. Watch Sicko if you doubt.

A society which won't adequately support public health will suffer even greater afflictions than the swine flu. That child who dies from the next outbreak of something virulent could very well be yours. It's clear that the Legislature recognizes the need for public health funding, for they are expected to continue covering public health costs out of the general fund even if Prop 1D passes. So what really gets accomplished with Prop 1D? Only increasing the risk to the general public. No tax money savings will be realized. A bad bill is still a bad bill.

The risk to the public health is also increased by Prop 1E, which continues the defunding of mental health programs for those the general public would much rather not deal with directly. In a process begun by Ronald Reagan pushing for federal funding cuts, the mentally ill are frequently seen roaming about untreated on our streets. At least those currently going without care and drifting tend not to be dangerous to themselves or the public, but further cuts will force the release of some who are. When these people commit some crime, as too many quickly will, then the costs of trying and incarcerating them will increase the law-and-order tax burden you will have to pay. Are you ready to reduce cops on the streets, courts for trials, and the jails for the convicted? I didn't think so, so pay up!

As Ballotpedia reminds us, the state's portion of the federally-mandated "Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program" will be affected by Prop 1E. This program is intended to cover the mental health needs of low income persons under age 21 — the group most likely to make up gangs and whose behaviors are the most risky. Throwing these kids into the streets is yet another opportunity for those who think taxes only go to welfare cases to earn the privilege of paying more for police, courts, and jails.

If these civic-minded folks become worried about those higher expenses, maybe they would like to volunteer to be an unpaid prison guard in the public interest? Prop 1E – yet another example proving that a bad bill is still a bad bill.

Rounding up the Prop 1 family of scam-law is Prop 1F. Under Prop 1F, the public is misled into thinking that when the Legislature does – as it did this last year — produce a deficit in the state fund, they will suffer a pay loss. California's legislators are among the highest paid, "earning" $116,208 annually along with $170/day "per diem" for living expenses. For that per diem amount alone, I could more than match my current income.

But of course a bad bill is still a bad bill, and none more so than one which misleads. The ex-Hollywood Liberal noticed that there is a glaring red light in Prop 1F: "The measure only empowers the Director of Finance to prevent the Citizens Compensation Commission from recommending an increase when a deficit year is declared." The real issue is public complacency, as the group at www.stoptaxingus.com clarified when they correctly observed that "Proposition 1F gives a false impression that voters were somehow punishing their legislators. With voters laboring under such a delusion, they may be less inclined to exact real accountability from their elected officials at the ballot box."

I am a firm believer in the elected officials of our various levels of government having to come before the people every year to justify our paying them for their services. No OK, no pay. This should keep the shysters and the partisan puppets of entrenched interests out of office, and only those who thought they truly had what it takes to truly represent the people would present themselves as candidates. Those who lied to themselves – and by extension, to the voters – would quickly resign to seek a more fitting position for themselves.

My positions on these propositions may surprise long-term readers of my posts, but I have to note that I would gladly pay for many of these programs IF there is a way to do so. Currently, there is not. There are too many sacred cows in the holy herds of both major parties to allow for necessary alterations in our social fabric. As unions get hammered, so should the businesses who think they are to reap a windfall from reduced wages. If sucking off the public teat is bad for the working class, so it should also be so for the business class. If labor is to stand on its own two feet without any government support for redress of grievance, so should it be for business. Until those who suck up to business agree to submit their clients to the same sacrifices they expect of the labor force, then I will continue to espouse serious reductions in their excessive power. They have abused it long enough.

Sic Semper our legislators. They have abused their power and privileges for far too long, and it is long past time that We, the People reclaim our national political birthright and actively take control of the governance of our nation. They either do the job we elected them to do, or we replace them. Damn Party affiliation to Hell! Turn off the TV! Vote the issues and not the party!

I strongly urge my California readers to vote against Propositions 1A-F. The rest of you can learn from our mistakes if we don't.

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About pessimist

  • Bliffle

    Words to live by:

    “Damn Party affiliation to Hell! Turn off the TV! Vote the issues and not the party!”

    You are exactly right. Until voters realize that their principles are only mimicked by cheap politicians currying votes, the politicians will continue to victimize us with fakery.

    Politicians come and go, but the evil they do lives on long after them.

    In CA Arnold has used a trick developed long ago in DC: separate all spending into ‘contracts’ and ‘entitlements’. ‘Contracts’ are the no-bid handouts to your friends that are backed by ‘Full Faith and Credit’ and cannot subsequently be cancelled or re-negotiated. “Entitlements” are programs for the general public or needy groups in the public who have weak political influence, like children, aged, disabled, crazy, etc.

    Then, later, when the budget squeezes come, you say “we can’t cut or negotiate those contracts, they’re backed by Full Fail And Credit. But those ‘entitlements’ are charity to the leeches, let’s cut them!” So, school budgets are cut, tennis courts closed, city parks deteriorate.

    See, it’s easy to be a swindller: study politicians.

    The only way to control them is to reject their dilatory politicking (over junk issues like gay marriage, abortion, etc.) and vote the issues.

  • It’s almost incredible how Arnold has squandered his star power. He could have easily broken the California legislature’s stronghold on the state within his first two years in office. But it takes a principled person to do it. Instead, he took the easy way out, trying to please everyone.

  • Bliffle

    Arnold was partly victimized by his own naive preconceptions, partly by the absurd requirement for 2/3 legislative approval on budgets, and partly by Grover Nyquist twisting arms on republican legislators to make them SIGN a document saying they will never vote for a tax increase.

  • Well, wasn’t he stuck with the “2/3” part?

  • Bliffle

    Yes, Arnold was stuck with it.

    I think the CA finances have become so screwed up that the state has to be divided up into several new states (which would also improve our representation in the senate – if the damn thing has to be retained we should at least get better representation equity).