Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obfuscated Self Destruction

I'm mad as heck and I'm not going to take it anymore! Ok. I am going to take it. At least for now. But I'm only taking it until I figure out what to actually DO about it. The "it" in question, as referred to in the title, is the State of California. Yesterday, I wondered what the opposite of "enlightened self-interest" was. I got several interesting responses, but I thought this came the closest to expressing what I am feeling about our decision making as a state...

This past Tuesday, we had a special election to vote on some ballot initiatives. These initiatives were made necessary by previous initiatives that require the public be polled whenever certain financial decisions need to be made such as reallocating money from one bucket to another. I'm not sure whether this system is designed to insulate the politicians from accountability or because of a lack of trust by the electorate. I have ranted about the system before. Why do we have elected officials if they have to get our permission to do anything meaningful? If they do something you don't like, vote them out? But they need to have the power to make tough choices, particularly in times of crisis.

Now, you may not have heard, but California has a budget shortfall of roughly $42 BILLION! That seems like a crisis to me. Now, there really isn't a good way to make up that kind of difference. You have two choices, right? Get more money (taxes and fees) or spend less money (layoffs and budget cuts). With a state as big as California, you can bet that there is not broad agreement on where to target these changes. The only thing everyone can agree on is that someone ELSE should make the sacrifice.

This is where our leaders should come in and lead. They should compromise and make tough decisions. After several MONTHS of bickering, the Democrats and Republicans crafted a compromise that would decrease, but not eliminate the gap. Their solution was a combination of $15 billion in spending cuts, $11 billion in borrowing and more than $12 billion in temporary increases to the sales, income and vehicle taxes. I didn't think it was perfect, but I certainly didn't have any better solutions. The first problem? The solution had to be broken into six ballot questions and approved by the public. The second? The politicians realized that their constituents didn't like portions of the compromise, so THEY CAMPAIGNED AGAINST IT! You heard me. They were more worried about re-election than fixing the mess.

As I am sure you can guess, the propositions did not get broad government support. With no organized campaign in their favor, the groups afflicted by the cuts could each target an individual proposition. All the propositions failed except for the one limiting legislator pay. None of them got more than 33% support. So, now we are as screwed as we were except that we are now almost a year closer to the precipice.

This special election was planned back in February. That means we have done nothing about this mess for roughly three months. If you aren't going to back your own compromise and you are hoping it will fail, shouldn't you have a backup plan ready? California is somewhere between 46th and 50th in per student education spending. That is going to have to get cut even lower. I predict that we will be laying off teachers, police officers, and fire fighters amongst other key service professions.

Anyone live in a state that is solvent?