Friday, May 15, 2009

Fear & Loathing in California... There's an Election Next Week!

Believe it or not, California will be voting next week. Yes, thanks to this state's dysfunctional "democracy" we will have yet another election. And this time, we're promised to see fire and brimstone rain down upon the state!

The Governor's decision to roll out an early May [budget revision] puts into perspective some of the very ugly cuts that the Legislature will have to make in the next few months. Yet some opponents of the May 19th ballot initiatives seem to think this is nothing but a pre-election PR ploy. Think again. These proposals are very, very real.

Progressives like [State Assembly] Speaker Karen Bass and [State Senate Pro-tem] Darrell Steinberg already are warning that the magnitude of the cuts that will need to be made are so severe that there isn't much "protecting" they will be able to do. Traditional Democratic allies already are preparing for the worst, as no one expects the new Republican leaders Sen. Dennis Hollingworth and Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee to even entertain the thought of revenue increases. Even fee increases may be off the bargaining table, as well as borrowing.

This is going to be ugly folks. And even uglier if the props don't fast [sic?]. The Governor's action is, at the very least, serving to show the public that the legislative leaders haven't been crying wolf.

So what are we to believe? Will California sink into the Pacific if the May 19 Special Election Initiatives fail? Or is this whole discussion "fail"?

Let's get real. We have no good choices right now in California. Thanks to both "The Great Recession" and three decades of awful radical right tax policy, this state is in a fiscal abyss.

So what are we to do? If we're to believe the "Yes on 1A-1F" campaign, passing these initiatives is our only hope. The Governator has just released a truly disastrous budget proposal, but we may not have any other choice if the May 19 initiatives fail.

Or do we? Robert at Calitics mentioned today an article by Joe Stiglitz and Peter Orszag explaining why it's better for us to tax thr rich than cut the poor.

Consumers buy less and businesses produce less when the economy is weak. Therefore,
the key to promoting the state's economic growth in the short run is to encourage spending on goods and services. Stiglitz writes: "In a recession, you want to raise (or not decrease) the level of total spending - by households, businesses and government - in the economy. That keeps people employed and buying things, and makes it more likely that businesses will want to invest to serve that consumer demand." However, state spending reductions have the opposite effect: Each dollar less that the state spends generally reduces consumption by the same amount. This dollar-for-dollar reduction in consumption tends to occur because state spending cuts disproportionately affect lower-income Californians, who typically spend all of their incomes. For example, every dollar of cash payments to low-income families that the state cuts would reduce the money that these families have to spend on rent, groceries, and other goods and services by an equal amount.

So why don't we just do that? Unfortunately, California's budget rules call for 2/3 support in the legislature to agree to any budget and/or tax increase. And unfortunately for the rest of the state, Republicans in the California Legislature would rather just see the state "do away with high taxes, like Nevada did". However, they seem to forget that (1) California can't rely on casino revenue to balance the budget, and (2) neither can Nevada.

So in essence, this is why we ended up with the May 19 ballot. Back in February when the original budget was being debated, most Republicans didn't want to play ball. That's why Arnold and the Democrats hunted down and co-opted as many "renegade Republicans" as they could to agree to a craptastic package of temporary tax increases (that won't take place until 2011 if passed) and budgetary gimmicks like borrowing off state lottery revenue that may not actually materialize and stealing money from children's services and mental health programs to pay for some new slush fund that won't actually "stabilize the budget" as advertised.

And yes, I'm recommending that you "Just Say No" to this special election simply because all the "solutions" being offered aren't real solutions at all.

Prop 1A is the cornerstone of this special election, and it's the primary reason to vote it all down. If passed, it will permanently tie the state's hands and prevent the state from spending what's necessary to stimulate our economy and provide basic services to California residents. Even in years like this one when it's raining cats and dogs, we'll still be required to redirect funds from needed services to the "rainy day fund". Is that insane, or what?

And if passed as well, Props 1D & 1E will only exacerbate the problem created by Prop 1A's passage. Even though voters had already agreed to protect child services and mental health services, 1D & 1E (respectively) will undo those protections and allow Arnold the Governator to further raid these programs' budgets to avoid addressing the real crisis in our budget, which is the regressive income tax structure. Why must our budget always be "balanced" on the backs of the working poor? 1D & 1E will only worsen this crisis if passed, so why should we let them be passed?

And as for everything else, it's all crap. 1B isn't really that bad, but since it's tied to 1A it'll be rendered moot if 1A fails (as 1A should). 1C is an attempt to raise funds by selling bonds tied to the state lottery revenues. Now how is this gimmick better than all the other failed gimmicks of the recent past? And 1F? All I'll say is that it's much adieu about nothing.

While I understand that we'll have a difficult conversation on taxes, fiscal policy, and progressive priorities WHEN Props 1A-1E fail, the fact of the matter is that we can no longer avoid it. California's bag of "magic" budgetary gimmicks is now empty. We can't afford to keep kicking this can down the road. And yes, a vote for the May Props is just a vote to keep kicking that beat-up old can down the road to nowhere.

The fact of the matter is that we need to talk about real tax reform. We need to make our tax system more progressive. We need to stop trying to "balancing the budget" on the backs of the working poor. And yes, we need to make the ultra-rich and fat cat corporations pay their fair share. We may have an uphill battle in either convincing Republicans to go along with this tax package or repealing the 2/3 budget rule before then, but we need to do either or both simply to end the radical right's overpowering veto of California's future.

[...] These ballot propositions are sadly typical of the product of the Democratic legislature over the last 30 years - a slightly less wingnutty set of proposals that Democrats feel obligated to support, and that they insist we become a party to by ratification at the ballot box. If the grassroots had any confidence that the Democratic legislature had a clear and compelling plan to fight for progressive budget solutions, more of them might be willing to reluctantly back the initiatives as a necessary evil. (To be clear, I do not count myself among this number, and I cannot imagine a scenario where I would support 1A or 1C-1F.)

What is happening is that Democratic and progressive grassroots activists, joined by a number of prominent progressive organizations (from labor unions like CNA to good government organizations like the League of Women Voters), are rejecting the entire way of thinking that went into the May 19 proposals.

The current crisis is the product of too much short-term conservative-lite solutions. No matter what happens on May 19, we will be confronted with the same basic crisis on May 20. It is long past time for us to articulate progressive proposals, educate the public on their value and the problems with conservative "solutions," and organize voters to enact them.

That is what the opponents of the May 19 initiatives are saying. Perhaps we will have to produce a May 20 strategy ourselves.

So are you ready to start talking about a real "May 20 Strategy"? I hope so.


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