Letter From California
10/21/06 0347.21 pst
San Jose, California
In a too-flippant post last week it was stated that public initiatives have wrecked the state of California, but without any explanation how or why. Since Election 2006 is just over two weeks away it is a good time to see how “direct democracy” has been an utter disaster for the Golden State.
[Simplified, initiatives are laws or constitutional amendments that, once qualified, are placed on the general ballot for passage or rejection, rather than the usual deliberative process of the legislature and governor.]
The first train wreck came in 1978 with the passage of the infamous Proposition 13 (technically the initiatives are called propositions on the ballot), the foolish, regressive property tax cut championed by curmudgeon Howard Jarvis. Born out of putrid incompetence in the legislature and governor (Willie and Jerry Brown, not related) Prop 13 cut property taxes, yes, but much more importantly slashed the amount property tax could raised after reassessment.
Hardly any at all, naturally. State revenue plunged while cities and counties desperately tried to make up the difference with sales taxes, no growth in services and outright cuts. Classroom size swelled to 32 students per teacher while the Republicans golfed and drank in Sacramento.
Coupled with the codification of anti-taxation is of course the California Republican Party, which has taken taxation as their signature issue in a pathetic, neurotic cling of singular cause; Republicans here are automatons of “no new taxes,” incapable of doing anything else in their public lives. Really, it’s all they ever offer, except when they’re not being bigots to Mexicans.
With their votes in the Legislature Republicans never, ever allow any tax increase to pass—not even to stave off a deficit. In deficit years the Legislature is completely dysfunctional and vomits a budget six months late as the state shuts down vital services in a sickening game of chicken. In other times all is static, even as the population booms and infrastructure and schools crumble.
The Groper failed last year in some grand plan of liberal government expansion, but the only way he dared offer to finance it was through bonds, 30 year borrowing. He knew it was totally futile to ask for a tax increase, even as a Republican governor!
Californians still have not fixed a busted revenue base after Prop 13 (28 years ago) and obdurately refuse to, even as roads crumble and choke, we shit on the future of our children and rob ourselves of any hope to build anything better. It can be very hard to watch in a state of vast, amazing wealth.
The next hit came in 1990 with a nuclear warhead, term limits. Californians had become utterly disgusted with overwhelming incumbent advantage, so instead of fixing the legislature they busted it: no more than three 2-year terms for Assembly, no more than 2 4-year terms in the Senate.
The result has become a guaranteed lock of incompetence, for there is never any experience or stable party structure anymore. Every term is a boil of changed seats and leadership that cannot function, so past members of the legislature, now lobbyists, write the bills for them. It’s not an exaggeration in the least, lobbyists swarm every legislative session with text and direction, the elected rubes doing as they’re told.
Every term it gets worse as more career politicians get booted out but of course refuse to leave government in some form, it’s who they are. Lobbying is also a very lucrative, fun way to live a day.
It’s so disheartening, California already had term limits, they were called elections, for the love of Jesus. The solution to infuriating incumbent advantage was campaign finance reform, term limits are clearly unconstitutional but the USSC, busted itself (see Bush vs Gore), said they were.
In this cheery, sunny realm of enlightened futuristic government came The Groper. Because of an asinine constitution California has a terrible recall provision; however else one might describe Arnold he is, basely, an empirical example of total democratic government dysfunction. The utter disaster of electricity deregulation is another, we’re having a great time out here.
Even after a crushing rebuke last year in a ridiculous special election Arnold is ten points ahead. Our government mechanics are busted, yes, but we also possess a corporate media and populace determined not to care. Until they do we shall limp along, blind to the Eden we could have built, oblivious to the pain needlessly inflicted on our people.