Wednesday, May 20, 2009

California Gets an Appointment with Destiny... Or Something...

The voters of California -- or at least the "smattering" of us who bothered going to the polls yesterday -- have given our Golden State an appointment with destiny. Or something.

In other words, only Proposition 1F (preventing salary hikes for state officials in years that California is running a deficit) passed. This graphic from the Los Angeles Times (h/t: Power Line) shows the wide margins of the vote:

And an editorial in The Sacramento Bee sums up the "smart" reaction perfectly:

Good morning, California voters. Do you feel better, now that you've gotten that out of your system?
You can read the whole editorial here, because The Sacramento Bee has already sent it down the memory hole and replaced it on their website with another editorial taking the opposite slant (going after the Sacramento lawmakers instead of the California voters). The editors claim the original editorial was just a first draft posted in error. But that first draft was an enlightening window into the Sacramento mindset: That this was simply a case of childish voters throwing a tantrum, because they either could not or would not understand what the adults in Sacramento have been doing for their own good. Like Jerry Houseman says, these people just don't want to pay for police officers, firefighters, and teachers.

After all, it couldn't possibly be that these people actually have no problem paying for police officers, firefighters, and teachers -- but also want to be able to cover their rent or mortgage, their car payment, their grocery bills, the cost of raising their children, their federal and local taxes, and maybe, just maybe, still have something left over to put away for a child's college education or even save for their own retirement. Could it?

Maybe Jerry and the Bee should ask the readers who are commenting on that editorial. Like rosevillej:
That was quite probably one of the most ridiculous editorials I have ever read. . . . I would have expected a more professional response to encourage debate about where we go from here. Obviously the BEE is completely out of touch with their own readers. Maybe it is time for California to be forced to make some difficult decisions. Yes, in a few years we may decide that there are some programs we need to fund better, but just perhaps, California needs to spend a few years "living within it's means" just like the rest of us. I certainly won't be renewing my subscription to the BEE when they clearly think so little of me and my fellow voters.
You tell 'em, rosevillej.

Because the question (or the problem) isn't whether the voters acted like children yesterday. The question (or the problem) is whether any adults are left in the state government. Because after kicking the can down the road year after year, the can finally got kicked back to them. And kicked hard.

Will the California legislature and executive branch cut their own perks and benefits first, or will they cut money that puts police officers on the street?

Will they cut administrators and consultants first, or will they cut money that puts teachers in the classroom?

Will they lay off highly paid managers and aides first, or will they lay off the people who actually do the work?

Will they legalize marijuana in the hopes of gaining additional revenue, or will they open up at least some of our offshore oil and natural gas reserves in hopes of gaining more revenue?

Will they release from state prisons "up to 19,000 illegal immigrants, who would face deportation," or will they finally grapple with the question of why we're paying to incarcerate and care for up to 19,000 illegal immigrants in the first place?

None of this is going to be easy. Or enjoyable. But I've seen this situation, albeit on a smaller scale, when I lived in Philadelphia during the 1990s. Ever-increasing tax rates and spending. Businesses fleeing, and taking their jobs and tax revenues with them. Talk of bankruptcy for the city, and even of the National Guard having to pick up the garbage on the streets. It simply could not go on the way that it was, and painful choices had to be made -- if only to avoid even more painful choices down the road.

Philadelphia had a state fiscal oversight board overseeing that process, though, and giving then-mayor Ed Rendell the cover he needed to push those changes through the city council and the public employee unions. Quite literally, that fiscal oversight board allowed Ed Rendell to save Philadelphia.

The only level of government above California, unfortunately, is the federal government. And does anyone, anywhere, have any faith in the Obama administration when it comes to making painful budget choices? Or in its willingness to provide cover for California to push through the changes it will need? Especially when the Obama administrations says that "it will revoke nearly $7 billion in federal stimulus money unless the state restores [$74 million in] legislated wage cuts for unionized health-care workers"?

I don't.

Which brings us back to the question of whether we still have any adults left in Sacramento.

This is going to be hard. And it's going to be painful. But if we don't deal with this now, it'll be even worse when we finally do.

Yesterday, a "smattering" of adults came out to the polls. Let's hope there are still more than a "smattering" of adults left in Sacramento. Or that the people who are there can grow up fast.

Either way, I'll be looking forward to Jerry Houseman's next rant on YouTube. I'm sure it will be a real barn burner.

UPDATE: Jennifer Rubin at contentions:
Mainstream media coverage of the California tax propositions’ crushing defeat is predictable. You see, this is a rebuke of Arnold Schwarzenegger personally (who in defeat now has "Republican" affixed to every mention of his name). Or it’s the fault of the "fickle" voters somehow, who are too dense to see that the way out of an enormous deficit pit in a recession is to raise taxes — lots and lots.

They are loath to see what the votes really mean, which is an overwhelming rejection of five tax-hike measures.
UPDATE II: Tim Cavanaugh at Reason:
Don't believe post-election spin that argues California voters rejected the slate out of pique at having to vote so often. The sore-thumb victory of the salary cap Prop 1F indicates voters were sufficiently attentive to the import of these initiatives that they said yes to one and no to all the others. They may have resented the initiatives on the basis of fatigue (I've had to vote twice since the November presidential), but they rejected the measures on the basis of their content.
UPDATE III: Fox News Channel just reported the Obama administration has backed down on its threat to withhold the California stimulus money as a result of the $74 million in wage cuts.

UPDATE IV: George Will summarizes the problems with the six propositions:
The Orange County Register -- if but one newspaper survives today's leveling winds, may it be this one -- made the case for rejecting all six propositions: 1A would have created an illusory spending cap that could be "easily circumvented by raising taxes" -- and the ballot language did not mention that 1A would have meant a $16 billion two-year extension of some of February's huge tax increases. Proposition 1B promised the public school lobby $9 billion, effectively bribing them to support 1A, which the California Teachers Association did. Proposition 1C combined "two of the worst practices responsible for" the state's dysfunction, "rosy revenue projections and borrowing": It would have authorized borrowing from (hypothetical) increases in state lottery revenues. Proposition 1D, "one more hide-the-pea fiscal deception," would have transferred to the general fund -- and much of it on to public employees -- revenues raised for children's programs. Proposition 1E would have done the same for revenues raised for mental health services.
Will also points out an often-overlooked point of madness in the California fiscal situation: Our constant use of ballot initiatives to set mandatory spending levels in certain areas and float bonds to fund everything from stem-cell research to infrastructure projects:
[V]oters have promiscuously used their state's plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. Last November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles -- a delight California cannot afford.
Maybe it's time to finally open the Pandora's Box of a state constitutional convention.

UPDATE V: Unlike The Sacramento Bee, an editorial in the Fresno Bee actually gets it:
We supported this budget package because we believed that it offered the best path out of this miserable budget situation. But angry California voters said they have had enough, and ordered the governor and legislative leaders back into budget negotiations. That voter sentiment cannot be ignored.

It's time that lawmakers pass a realistic budget that doesn't rely on gimmicks and borrowing to make it appear balanced. A bankrupt California is not an option, and that means deep and painful cuts to most spending programs, including education. It is time for a shared sacrifice, with no program being exempt from budget cuts.

The governor and legislative leaders created this crisis by not dealing with the state's fiscal problems when they were manageable. The politicians shouldn't be surprised at how voters reacted Tuesday.

Our state leaders are responsible for the intense cynicism that Californians feel toward their government. Part of Sacramento's mission must be restoring citizens' faith in their government. That means listening to the people, and not taking marching orders from the special interests who fund political campaigns.

This election was about more than the state's budget crisis. It was a referendum on California's political leadership. We hope the message gets through to the governor and legislative Democrats and Republicans that they've been found lacking.
UPDATE VI: Wouldn't you just love to know what's going through the mind of California State Senator Abel Maldonado today? Maybe, "It was all for nothing!"

UPDATE VII: The portion about The Sacramento Bee editorial has been altered to reflect that paper replacing the editorial in question with another editorial taking the opposite slant after a firestorm of bad reactions. As Doug Ross writes, "If ever an editorial board could execute a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree midair turn, that was it."

UDPATE VIII: Blogger Dr. Zaius has the true explanation for what happened:
Oops! Er ... um ... this is quite embarassing. I mean, yeah. We had the editorial up on our Web page for about 12 hours and didn't realize it. But this was a just a wacky mix-up. It's kinda funny, really. You see, our staff cat, Toonces — the cutest little thing you'd ever see — walked on the computer keyboard of our deputy assistant editorial writer (who is new around here) and accidentally sent to the Web guys the "draft" that the new guy fired off to help facilitate conversation. The Web guys, of course, didn't know that Toonces is not really on our editorial board (in fact, he's not even a paid staffer at The Bee) and not authorized to send "ready to publish" information to the Web. And, golly, we were so focused on figuring out good, workable solutions to this state's pressing problems that we didn't notice this mistake by Toonces (and the eager new guy) until around lunch time. And ...
Then, Dr. Zaius gets serious:
As many readers here know, Ben and I met and became friends as staffers on the editorial board of The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, California. Before that, Ben was an editorial writer for Investor's Business Daily just outside Los Angeles and I was an editorial writer for The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We know very well how editorial boards function. It is highly unusual for members of the board to write a full "draft" of an editorial before the board even meets to discuss how to craft the argument for the issue in question — even on a tight deadline for a morning-after-the-election editorial. It is even less likely that such a raging screed would be mistaken as the "real" editorial that is sent to the Web page staff to throw on the Internet. Then again, the Bee editorial board member went through the trouble of even writing a headline for his "draft." C'mon. I've never written a headline for a draft editorial. Not once. I doubt Ben has, either.

But, it seems, The Bee has less formal standards. And "after discussion, we decided that our initial editorial about the special election should take a different tack." So, the Bee editorial board contemplated using that screed "draft" in the paper. They didn't dismiss it out of hand, but, "after discussion" (I'd love to have heard that debate) thought better of it and took "a different tack." I'm guessing it was a close call. It would have been nice if [Editorial Page Editor David] Holwerk had addressed what was in that editorial — especially it's insulting and childish tone toward readers and voters — and apologized for it. That's what I would have done. But I guess insulting readers is not really a concern to The Bee.
And some people wonder why newspapers are going bankrupt.