SF Guardian – Editor’s Notes
By Tim Redmond
First, let’s get rid of the hype and spin. Californians did not reject new taxes May 19. There weren’t any taxes on the ballot. What the voters turned down was a political deal, cut by five people in Sacramento — the governor and the Democratic and Republican leadership of the Assembly and Senate. The Republicans leaders weren’t even that involved at the end — it was two Democrats, Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President pro tem Darrel Steinberg, and Gov. Schwarzenegger, trying to make a budget pact work and then dragging a reluctant GOP legislator or two along.
The tax increases that were designed to help this year’s budget are in effect, approved by the Legislature. The Prop.1A–1B deal would have extended them an extra two years. The $6 billion that Props. 1C, 1D, and 1E would have “raised” (as the Chronicle described it) actually came from two things — cuts to children’s programs and mental health services and borrowing against future lottery proceeds. What the voters rejected, among other things, was a provision that would have come awfully close to being a spending cap.
It would have been this generation’s version of Prop. 13, a fiscal straightjacket demanded by antitax Republicans that the state would regret for years to come. And the left opposed the deal as strongly as the right. The real lesson: the voters don’t trust either Schwarzenegger or the Legislature. The state government is a godawful mess, and everybody knows it. So this week, we talk about fixing things. Let me start by quoting a man I have always held in utter disdain, the late right-wing economist Milton Freidman. Because he makes a valid point: “It is worth discussing radical changes, not in the expectation that they will happen but for two other reasons. One is to construct an ideal goal so than incremental changes can be judged by whether they move the institutional structure toward or away from that ideal. The other reason is very different. It is so that if a crisis requiring or facilitating radical change does arise, alternatives will be available that have been carefully developed and fully explored.”
I’m not sure that California, a state that now has 36 million residents and by current projection will have 60 million in the next 20 years, can possibly be governed by our current institutions and systems. It’s too big; it costs way too much money to run for office, run an initiative campaign, or communicate effectively to the voters. You can’t compete for statewide office without tens of millions of dollars. State senators represent almost 1 million people. Try running a low-budget, grassroots campaign in that universe. Initiative battles are so much more about money than they are about facts that the wrong side often wins. The major news media don’t cover Sacramento much anyway, so state politics come down almost entirely to cash and hype (witness the current occupant of the Governor’s Office). We need more than just a Democratic governor and more Democrats in the Legislature.
We need to rethink the way we run California.