Saturday, February 21, 2009

California Has A Budget - Barely

The state of California finally passed a budget a couple of days ago. It's not a pretty sight; there are lots of cuts, and some increases in taxes. Republicans fought the taxes very hard, and demanded cuts in social services and education. For example, the California State University system (which is the second-tier system, below the University of California, but above community colleges) is going to lose 10,000 students. That's just mind-boggling.

Apparently the Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate worked together well, which is good. Arnold did a reasonably decent job, but he's also part of the problem; he slashed the vehicle license fee when he came into office, which is part of why we're in the mess that we're in. Arnold has a seriously dysfunctional relationship with most of the Republican party. He doesn't like them, and they don't like him. He's very much a RINO (Republican In Name Only). I think could have been a very good governor if he had had political experience before he was elected. As it is, he's been learning on the job, which has not been an entirely positive experience for the citizens of California. He also doesn't really have a base to mobilize.

Republicans hate paying taxes because they don't see themselves as getting anything in return. They see taxes as going to support poor people in the inner cities. They see money for education going for liberal professors who are critical of Republicans. They see money for drug rehabilitation going to criminals who threw away their chances to be good citizens, and now only deserve jail.

Not all Republicans think this way, obviously, but enough of the ones in the California legislature do to wreak havoc on the state budgeting process. These idiots even negotiated some tax cuts for businesses. That's just absurd. Tax cuts for businesses when we are cutting education? If I were a responsible business owner, I would be furious. I would like a tax cut to hire new people, but what I really need are educated employees. And educated customers who have enough money to buy my products.

A big part of the problem is that the state has become almost ungovernable. A two-thirds majority is required to pass the budget. There are some good leaders in the legislature, but they're very new; Karen Bass, the Speaker, has only been in that position since May. Why? Because of that utterly idiotic idea, term limits. I think term limits is one of the stupidest ideas in the history of politics, but we're stuck with them for now. We don't have the leaders that we used to, guys who had been around for a long time and who could broker deals quickly. Term limits become a self-fulfilling prophecy; voters are angry at their legislators, so they impose term limits, which limits their legislators ability to do their jobs, which makes the voters even angrier. Someone needs to put a stop to this madness.

There may be some good things to come out of this. As Rahm Emanuel says, "Never waste a good crisis." One of the reasons this was finally passed was that one state senator, Abel Maldonado, traded his vote for a promise to open up primaries. It would mean that the top two vote-getters in a primary, regardless of party, would face off in a general election. This takes the power out of the hands of the parties, and puts it in the hands of voters. The hope is that it will reward more moderate candidates, because independent voters would be more likely to vote for them. The parties, of course, hate it.

This is yet another - how many more of these do we need? - example of Republicans failing to come to terms with the exhaustion of their anti-tax ideology. Republicans used to be the party of good management. They have long since abandoned that. They aren't managing, they aren't governing, they're just reacting. Our next governor, let us pray, will be a Democrat with even bigger Democrat majorities. Never waste a good crisis. Particularly if the crisis is in your opposition's electoral strategy.

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