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 Someday, these tax increases probably ought to be rescinded.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.