Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | May 20, 2009

They Just Don’t Get It

The theory of California Propositions 1A through 1F, five of which were soundly defeated by voters yesterday, was that by raising taxes, committing specific funding to education, and raiding protected state funds, we could reduce the deficit for the 2009-10 budget cycle from $21.3 billion to $15.4 billion.

Let me put that another way.  The theory of the Propositions was that we would raise our taxes, which are already among the highest in America.  We would make yet more specific spending obligations for which the funding was not identified, but only “projected” and hoped for, which is what got us to this pass in the first place.  We would reach into funds the voters decided, in past years, to protect for specific uses – setting a dangerous precedent both fiscally and politically.

And our payoff would be a current-budget deficit reduced from $21.3 billion to $15.4 billion.

Anyone still not getting this?  That the Propositions promised more and worse of state fiscal business as usual, and a gigantic deficit only reduced, by less than 30%?

Can there be any surprise that we voted this turkey down?

I have already done a lengthy (and for me, extraordinarily painful) treatment of the monstrosity that is the 2009-10 California state budget.  Here’s what it looks like to me.  We are apparently facing a budget deficit of $21.3 billion or more in the current cycle.  In this budget cycle, the state has $37,985,503,000 (or nearly $38 billion) proposed for health and human services funding:  welfare and Medi-Cal.

That’s what we should cut by $21.3 billion.  That would still leave $16.7 billion, which I am betting would more than cover Medi-Cal for the state’s seniors.  (The federal government is projected, in this 2009-10 budget, to spend about $45 billion on welfare and health entitlements in California.  This amount may well be reduced if California’s funding declines, so I am registering here that I recognize that.)

Of course, the governor and the legislature speak invariably in terms of our cuts having to come from education, public safety, and transportation.  Even last night, as the voting numbers were coming in and the local news stations interviewed legislative leaders by phone, those were the cuts they listed first.  Only after cuts in those services did some of them mention health and human services.

Granted, the K-12 education budget is supposed to be a whopping $54.8 billion in this budget cycle.  And I have grave doubts that there is honesty and good stewardship going on with that colossal budget, when I see classroom teachers being dismissed first, as the budget cuts loom.

(It appears that the need for budget cuts is revealing quite clearly what our sanctimonious politicians really mean when they say “Education first!”)

Meanwhile, we would have to cut over 90% of spending on public safety (about $13 billion) and transportation projects (about $10.6 billion), to excise $21.3 billion from the 2009-10 budget.  We could keep the Highway Patrol (about $2.02 billion) or a quarter of state corrections (about $9.7 billion – already an absolute cut from the 2007-8 budget).  State money for the CDF firefighters is less than $1 billion; perhaps we could keep both firefighting and CHP if we shut down the prisons and stopped all transportation projects.

But my vote is for taking this $21.3 billion out of health and human services.  It remains seriously unclear to me why state entitlement programs are supporting “Octomom” in her career of maternal narcissism – and that’s just the tip, the “poster protrusion,” of a very deep iceberg.  When people whose incomes are twice mine bring their children to my optometrist for state-funded eye exams and lenses – meaning, in case it’s not clear, that I am paying for their children’s services – while I am paying for mine from my own pocket, I am convinced that health entitlements are way out of control.  I encountered this situation in July of 2008:  it is a change from previous years, a vast extension of state health entitlements just in the last two years.

Here, as we learned in my 10 May forensic budget examination, is one of the cost-cutting measures proposed by the health program administrators of the state Department of Health and Human Services, for the 2009-10 budget cycle:

  • [Saving] $9.6 million ($4.8 million General Fund) in 2008‑09 and $142.4 million ($71.2 million General Fund) in 2009‑10 by implementing month‑to‑month eligibility for undocumented immigrants unless a subsequent emergency ensues.

And before this measure has been implemented for the budget cycle – even leaving aside our very natural reaction about how long ago it should have been implemented, and whether undocumented immigrants should have Medi-Cal eligibility on any basis, month-to-month or otherwise – our elected leaders are threatening us with cuts to education, public safety, and transportation projects.

How stupid do they think we are?  There’s actually an answer to that, if we go by editorial sentiment in the mainstream media:  pretty stupid.  As Hot Air’s Allahpundit points out today, the Los Angeles Times is awfully disappointed in California voters.  Besides “lashing out” at Sacramento, voters are seeking a “free lunch,” have “brought into stark relief the fact that they… share the blame for the political dysfunction that has brought California to the brink of insolvency,” and as if that weren’t enough, they’re “fickle.”  Yes, LAT used the “F” word on the voters.

But here is what else LAT did in this editorial.  In a fascinating passage, its author, Michael Finnegan, recounts the following:

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. Over the last couple of decades, voters have also passed a patchwork of ballot measures directing billions of dollars to favorite causes, among them public schools and transportation projects.

On Tuesday, Californians showed they were unwilling to scale back their demands in tight times: Voters turned down propositions that would have freed up money that they set aside years ago for mental-health and children’s programs…

Together, voters’ piecemeal decisions since the 1970s have effectively “emasculated the Legislature,” said John Allswang, a retired Cal State L.A. history professor.

“They’re looking for cheap answers — throw the guys out of power and put somebody else in, or just blame the politicians and pretend you don’t have to raise taxes when you need money,” he said.

Oh, and the voters are “not realistic,” and have “contradictory impulses.”

Conspicuously missing from this litany – trumpet-blaringly, drum-rollingly, cap-blastingly missing from this litany – is that other thing the voters did:  the one that was overturned in federal court:  the one that was designed to put a lid on out-of-control entitlement spending for illegal aliens:  Proposition 187, passed in 1994 by 58.9% of voters.

Adding Prop 187 into the mix of measures reflecting voter priorities changes the picture dramatically.  In light of the broad support for Prop 187, what we can say about the voters’ “impulses” is that they have consistently been to force legislators to spend the people’s tax money on education and transportation infrastructure, and specifically not on uncontrollably-spiraling entitlements for people who not only are not Californians, but are not even in this country legally.

The analysis looks very different when we factor in Prop 187.  If we had suspicious natures, we might even suppose the LAT editorial failed to mention it – one of the three best-known and most memorable California ballot initiatives in the last 40 years – because it weakened a biased argument.

They just don’t get it, the political left.  I rarely have recourse to shorthand buzz-phrases, but in the case of the California Left, it really is true, point by point, that they want to operate the state as a sort of enviro-socialist utopia:  one in which income transfer is a way of life, people don’t drive and don’t use air conditioning, and groups of public planners – whose commissions and jobs are never in jeopardy, no matter how bad the economy or how out-of-balance the budget – are paid to decide what kind of work the rest of us should do, how we should get to our jobs, how much water and electricity we should use each day, and whether we have the “correct” amount of comfort and worldly goods as compared to the other people in California, the United States, the Western hemisphere, and the world.

The California voters do not want this.  The voters object strenuously to the idea that their hard work should fund the enviro-socialist utopian visions of advocacy groups.  Voters want, rather as we would expect, to benefit themselves from the fruit of their own labors:  to care for their families first, and then give to the causes and charities that make sense to them.

The California voters do not want to attract all the world’s entitlement rent-seekers, at the expense of the California taxpayer.  What they want is for their tax dollars to go for actual education (that’s teachers in front of children in classrooms, since apparently the concept needs clarification), for transportation infrastructure improvements (that would be roads, freeways, commuter trains – not high-speed rail to Vegas, or “commissions” paid to think up ways to get us to ride bikes), and for water capture and distribution, like, for starters, another couple of reservoirs to collect the enormous snow runoff from the Sierra that goes uncollected every year.  They fully expect their tax dollars to be used to keep their streets safe, to protect their families from criminals, and to fight wildfires.

California voters, quite intelligently, understand that state services have to be paid for.  What they are rejecting is not that reality, but the kind of state services they are being asked to pay for; the withholding of state services that they are willing and eager to pay for; and the continuation of a spending program that they know full well they have no control over.  The state legislature has gone way out of its way to more than accommodate the 1999 federal court ruling that overturned Prop 187, in a sort of counter-187 frenzy of programmatic privileging of illegal aliens (along with legal citizens) in terms of health, welfare, and educational entitlements.  Listen up, Sacramento:  that is what the California voters do not want to raise taxes to perpetuate.

The federal courts may be able to overturn Prop 187.  And the state legislature, its Democratic majority deeply embedded in outdated electoral district boundaries, may have been able to use that as a pretext for heaping social-program spending on the state budget.  But the voters are under no obligation to approve these trends, or sign up for higher taxes to keep them going.

It’s not the voters who want to have it both ways.  It’s the leadership of the political left, which wants to limit, restrict, and control the environment for business and personal life in California, and then raise taxes on the declining resources people have left, to put that public money to uses the voters don’t even approve.

The vote yesterday was a referendum on the political direction of the state.  Of course the Los Angeles Times, with its left-leaning editorial slant, is unhappy with the outcome.  The voters signaled that they do not want to keep paying for what they have no control over.  It turns out that the federal courts and the Democrats in the state legislature can’t make California taxpayers pay for irresponsibly expanding social-program entitlements, for illegal aliens as well as legal Californians – at least not by this method.

We’ll see in the coming years if Obama and the Democrats in Congress are able to achieve the goal by another one.


  1. […] hey Just Don’t Get It « Theoptimisticconservative’s Blog […]

  2. I think you are missing the most important point. Our federal government has already degenerated into an oligarchy.

    Republicans and Democrats are first and foremost protecting their own power and have been doing this for quite some time.

    When the Constitution was written, the House of Representatives was supposed to have not more than 1 member for every 30,000 citizens. With current population, that would be over 10,000 House members.

    In 1911, the number of Reps. was capped at 435. Two years later in 1913, the 16th amendment was passed allowing Congress to tax income. This produced two diverging statistics cause by population growth.

    The more the population grows:

    1. The lower is the per capita representation


    2. The higher is the amount of money at Congress’ discretionary disposal.

    These two diverging statistics have reached critical mass. The tea parties are a very appropriate response as we no longer have real representation. Both houses operate like the upper house and we the people have no responsive government. It is an oligarchy and our liberties are at risk.

    We need to correct the imbalance by repealing the 16th amendment, and re-evaluate the cap on House members and find a way to have real representation again.

    Then, we will be in a position to actually solve the rest of the problems….but not until then.

    Best regards,
    Gail S

  3. Gail S — I agree with you that we need to repeal the 16th amendment. I wrote about its evil effects on fiscal responsibility in this post in February:

    I’m not so convinced that we need to have anywhere near 10K members of Congress. That would be a seriously unwieldy number, even with modern technology.

    In my view, we would get back to having more responsive representation if we rolled back the programmatic overreach of the federal government, and simply stopped having it do as much as it does, and shift a lot of the remaining activities back to the states, where they belong. Our representation at the state level is usually for a much smaller number of constituents than for our federal Congressmen.

    But in the general sense, I think you and others are very right that we can’t just keep going with all the same structural elements that have gotten us to the bad situation we’re in. I think the momentum is gathering for an independent Constitutional Convention. We’ll have to see where that goes in the coming years.

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