California gridlock, courtesy GOP diehards

Here in the state of California we are being treated to the spectacle of a small minority of Republican dead-enders in the legislature holding the entire state economy hostage to their tax-cutting religion.

The story, for those blissfully beyond Sacramento’s reach, is that our state rules require a 2/3 vote to pass a budget. So that even though Democrats control both houses of the legislature, they need a few Republicans to pass a budget. And our local GOP reps have apparently signed a pact in blood that they will never, ever, under any circumstances, support tax increases. The Democrats — along with our Republican governor — have found two GOP state senators to come to terms with reality, but they need a third, and can’t seem to find it. (It’s as if Obama’s stimulus package died in Congress because one of the three Republican moderate senators got cold feet.) In the latest development, the GOP diehards have spurned their own leader as an apostate because he was willing to negotiate with the evil tax-boosters.

Every time something like this happens we need to remind ourselves of the deep misreading of history that underlies the tax-cutting religion. The theory is that the only way to grow the economy is by cutting taxes. Reagan cut taxes in the early ’80s, and the ’80s were a good decade if you were a bond trader or an investor in the PC industry, but for the middle class they were, at best, so-so. Bush pere and Clinton raised taxes in the early ’90s and the ’90s were the best decade economically that most of us have experienced. Bush fils cut taxes in the early 2000s and we had a lousy decade again, except if you were a hedge-fund investor or a house-flipper, and even a lot of them got clobbered in the end, along with everyone else.

Given all this, anyone who preaches the universal efficacy of tax cuts is, in my book, not fit to sit at the grownup table.

If California is going to meet its obligations, California has to raise taxes. Would it be kinder to the people of California not to raise their taxes in the face of the bad economy? Of course. The state could use a lot more help from Washington (where, whoops, the GOP has stood in the way of greater aid to state and local governments). Someday, these tax increases probably ought to be rescinded. But right now? The state can’t print money, and it needs to pay its bills.

Which brings us to the real question: as this economic calamity courses through our system and our lives, how much of the machinery of government and the infrastructure of local communities are we going to allow it to destroy? And what kind of a society do we want to have left on the other side of the cataclysm?

What the Republicans who stand in the way of a California budget are saying to our community’s schools and fire departments and other services is: shut down. Go away. We don’t need you. It’s the logical endpoint of the strangle-government-in-the-bathtub philosophy of America’s hard right, which actively wants to wreck government’s ability to serve as a stabilizing and supportive force in our lives and our economy.

With any luck, this crisis will help voters see this philosophy for the dead end that it is. Obviously we here in California need to change the 2/3 rule that gives a small minority this kind of power over the public’s business. We can also hope that the communities who elect these ostrich legislators never have to face the full brutal consequences of their ideological idiocies.

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Comments

  1. The Republican tactics are even worse than GOP Senators holding the stimulus hostage because this bill is much more important than the stimulus bill. California is going to burn $400 million to shut down projects that it can no longer afford to fund, and has no budget at all. Is it possible that California, one of the top ten economies on the world on its own, has the worst state government in America?

  2. Thomas

    OH SWEET (insert name of chosen saviour here)!?! ARE YOU SERIOUS? We are one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation. The role of Government is NOT to take care of every person at every stage of their lives. And the reason for these BRAVE Republicans standing up for what is right is not to stimulate the economy as you stated, but to say enough is enough. It is the PEOPLE’S money not the Government’s. It is OUR right to keep our own money and do as WE see fit, not to have it taken from us at gunpoint like some codified criminal enterprise. As for you bringing up Schools and Fire Stations; these are the last refuge of tax thieving scoundrels. How about the billions of dollars going to illegal immigrants each year? How about the billions going to unions? How about the fact that if we change our laws to require only a majority to pass tax increases this state will become completely unlivable to any person who is not a tax user. These are desperate times for our great state and if these brave men and women of the legislature (it pains me to think of any legislator as brave) didn’t stand up for what was right it would mean that our rendezvous with destiny had met an untimely demise.

  3. Nathan

    Scott,

    I hope you respond to Thomas. Yes he seems rather emotional. But what about his arguments – what if he had made them in a seemingly more calm, reasonable, and light-hearted fashion?

    I really am curious to know how you would answere him.

    Is he right in asking where it will end?

    And I doubt cutting education and fire stations is at the top of his list, huh?

    -Nathan

  4. Scott Rosenberg

    Sure, let’s unpack Thomas’s comment.

    (1) “One of the most heavily taxed states in the nation”: We also provide more and better services to a bigger population that constitutes an economy larger than most foreign nations. People, including most definitely myself, still find it appealing to live here. The tax increases proposed for the state budget are matched by roughly equal budget cuts. This is a crisis. You can raise taxes a bit, or you can watch the state’s economy and services disintegrate. I know what I’d choose and so, I think, do the vast majority of the state’s population.

    (2)”The role of government is not to take care of every person”: Right. Who’s proposing that?

    (3) “It is the people’s money, not the government’s”: George W. Bush used this same line to take the hard-won budget surplus he inherited from Clinton — money that was supposed to pay our Social Security in the future — and hand it back to “the people” in lopsided tax cuts that favored the wealthy. This is an infantile argument. The point is: the people have constituted a government to take care of certain collective needs. Then they tax themselves to pay for it. Most of us don’t want to see the current crisis wreck the institutions we’ve built. A small minority of Republicans don’t seem to care.

    (4) “It is our right to keep our money…not to have it taken from us at gunpoint…”: This is the radical libertarian view, I guess. Those who don’t believe in taxing themselves to provide for basic services are happy to advocate their tax-free paradise, but when they find themselves losing their own goods “at gunpoint” because they’ve defunded the police, the “war of all against all” stops looking so peachy.

    (5) “Schools and Fire Stations… the last refuge of tax-thieving scoundrels”: I guess Thomas is (a) not a parent (or uncle or godfather) and (b) not a homeowner who expects help from the local firefighters during the next wildfire season.

    (6) “How about the billions of dollars going to illegal immigrants each year? How about the billions going to unions?” You could redline every dollar in the state budget going to illegal immigrants and unions and still have tens of billions of dollars of deficit to deal with. Thomas, your leaders and the media people you listen to are waving these red flags in your face to distract you from what’s actually happening here.

    (7) “How about the fact that if we change our laws to require only a majority to pass tax increases this state will become completely unlivable to any person who is not a tax user?” It seems to work OK in dozens of other states. And it would mean that the next time you’re able to elect a Republican majority they could enact the policies that their voters support, too.

    (8) “These are desperate times for our great state and if these brave men and women of the legislature (it pains me to think of any legislator as brave) didn’t stand up for what was right it would mean that our rendezvous with destiny had met an untimely demise.” All this heroic rhetoric to resist a one percent sales tax increase, a small annual vehicle tax increase and an income tax surcharge!

    In any case, as of this morning it appears that the rendezvous with destiny has indeed met its untimely demise: the Democrats finally got their third GOP vote and we have a budget. This debate isn’t over, though.

    Nathan, the “where it will end” question is a fair one, but it has a simple answer: there are potent checks and balances in the system; if California were truly the rapacious tax-monster Thomas portrays, the legislators would get thrown out of office pretty fast. They’re not just raising taxes; they’re cutting billions from education and other services. I don’t love this budget, but I’m glad to see the state come to grips with reality.

  5. Paul Guinnessy

    But won’t this budget ring around improve until California stops gerrymandering districts so that there are enclaves that attract the radicals on both sides of the divide? Split the districts up into more sensible competitive districts and let the best arguments win.

  6. Nathan

    Scott,

    Read it. Good words. Thanks again.

    “Nathan, the “where it will end” question is a fair one, but it has a simple answer: there are potent checks and balances in the system; if California were truly the rapacious tax-monster Thomas portrays, the legislators would get thrown out of office pretty fast. ”

    At the same time, this assumes that persons will respect the democratic process. I guess it comes down to trust. I think people who are on the other side (libertarians, social conservatives, military conservatives, etc) get nervous when they see so much happening so fast at the federal level – seemingly in a less than transparent manner, and they get nervous. It looks like a massive power grab with little concern for very legitimate concerns. This does little to reassure persons.

    See, for example:

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/stories/2009/02/16/daily40.html

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123482908053095381.html

    I know you weren’t talking about federal stuff, but I think it all ties in in people’s minds. Thanks for putting up with me. I’d love to get more of your thoughts but realize you’ve likely got much else to do.

    Thanks again,
    Nathan

  7. Good Point

    “…Clinton raised taxes in the early ’90s and the ’90s were the best decade economically that most of us have experienced…”

    Anecdotal evidence: that’s the best kind!

    So the 80s & 2000s sucked because we had LOWER taxes. And it was not people’s creativitity and innovation that fueled the internet (and internet companies) growth, but higher taxes?

    Wow, you sure have a simplistic view of the world.

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