Search This Blog

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Return of the California Republic may Mean the Demise of the Ballot Initiave Movement


Californians, and Americans hate taxes. Who doesn't? Every generation has complained about them. But with Proposition 13, one generation decided to do something about it. They decided "enough was enough." They decided only they mattered...only their moment mattered. They decided they would freeze their tax burden in time. To hell with the consequences, they said. We're mad as hell and we have the ballot-initiative process!

Bye-Bye Ballot Initiaves
Well, here's a prediction: The 1978 measure that froze property taxes--the taxes that pay for state education--may have begun a decades-long process that will ultimately limit access to the initiative process itself--if not eventually end it.

Imagine this: A populous decides, with the passage of a proposition (in this case Prop. 13), to stop their government from raising taxes. It also demands their government, oh I don't know, let's say the state government of California, have a balanced budget every year: No deficits allowed. The people also demand an endless ribbon of freeways, and limitless capacity for prisoners, and a three-strikes law that captures hundreds of thousands of non-violent offenders (for instance, anyone whose third strike was carrying a joint, which was a violation of probation for some other nonviolent crime--life in prison baby!) Then, when a Great Recession hits (as it has) and tax revenues go down as a result, the state starts letting prisoners go because it can't house and feed them all. The state also stops supporting destitute schizophrenics who go off their medications as a result.

Let's not forget the hundreds of new police officers who won't be hired to replace retiring ones. Can you say crime wave? Then of course there's the fire fighters who won't be hired either. Can you say burn baby burn?

At the same time, poor children, whose only square meal is the one they get at school, and the only medical care they get is paid for by the state, start failing at school because of cutbacks in services. Poor: it's that synonym for illegal immigrant in the minds of many taxpayers, even though there are PLENTY of natural-born Americans who grow up in poverty...a lot more than some would like to believe.

You be the Politician
Now, imagine you’re a politician holding a statewide job in California, and you can only have two terms in office. The first term you have to learn where everything is and how Sacramento works. The second term you have to figure out what your next job will be, and how to get the funds and support to get their, rather than getting good at fulfilling the obligations of your office so that your record will get you re-elected.

Now add these things to the fact that, if you're a politician in California, the budget crisis is your fault even if you just got there. The recent raising of the sales tax is your fault. The state of public education is your fault. The fact that it takes months to pass a budget bill is your fault, because no one wants to be the politician who voted for raising a tax that will balance the mandatory-balanced budget, or who had to call for the laying off of teachers or the closing of mental-health facilities.

So what got us here? Special interests whose sole priority is to lower all taxes all the time regardless, REGARDLESS, of the consequences, have applied sophisticated, focus-grouped marketing power to ballot-initiative campaigns, amping them up with manipulated populist fury. I mean come on, how hard do you think it is to get someone made about paying taxes and convincing them that they pay too much. Add some random (and often completely wrong) statistical anecdote or rankings and guess what? We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore!

The Catch!
Here’s the catch, eventually everyone gets painted into a corner. We’re in that corner today, 31 years after Saint Jarvis gave a generation of Californian’s the power to freeze their property taxes in time. Now, however, the generation that benefited from Proposition 13 is becoming a small minority. Now, the cuts are coming and everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, will be feeling the real, long-deferred consequences of that self-centered revolt of the Me Generation, i.e., Prop. 13, in the form of higher crime rates, worsening roads, more mentally ill on the streets and believe it or not, even worse public education.

What will we do? We’ll either grow up, shut the you-know-what up and stop whining about “high” taxes and just pay the price of living in a civilized, modern world. Oh yeah, what about the loss of income Californians will suffer as a result of paying a realistically priced state tax bill?

Okay, let’s see, before the crisis our sales tax was 8.25 percent. Remember, if we all just paid less than $40 per year more in state income taxes, we wouldn’t need the new sales tax of 9.25 percent (a figure that includes all county and district sales taxes as well). I’m officially a middle-class earner in California, and my state income tax last year was less than $300. Is that really so bad? I can’t help but wonder how much money is spent by companies, lobbyists, special interest groups, in their efforts to eliminate taxes. And, I wonder just how big the get-out-of-paying-taxes-at-any-cost industry in this state is. I wouldn’t be surprised if that figure is equal to the amount of taxes that could have led to averting the compounded revenue-shortfall mess the state has found itself in now.

Don’t be surprised if Republic Of L.A. researches those questions.

But more importantly, don’t be surprised if liberal, moderate, and even conservative politicians realize the corner they’re in can only be overcome by applying well-funded sophisticated, focus-grouped marketing techniques to one more ballot initiative…one that ends the easy access to the initiative process itself, and returns some power to the idea of a California Republic. Remember, in a republic, the people elect other people (politicians) to run government on their behalf, so that they don’t have to vote on every single matter directly.

No comments: