AIP column: California’s Morning After
posted at 10:15 am on May 21, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
For those 14% who said I’d wait until today to finally post on vacation, congratulations — but I have a good reason. AIP has my weekly column today on the California tax revolt and its implications. California had its Morning After yesterday, but the ship of state still lists as dangerously as the ship in The Poseidon Adventure, and it could capsize as easily unless Californians themselves awaken to their own folly:
At the same time, Californians kept pushing back against the tax hikes. We started a tax revolt in 1978 with Proposition 13 that put two constraints on California government. First, it limited property-tax evaluations from increasing dramatically except after a sale, after the state abused its assessment power in an attempt to get more money from property owners. It also forced the legislature to get a two-thirds majority in each chamber to raise taxes, which put the power in the hands of the minority – and at least occasionally kept the legislature from hiking taxes.
Today, finally, The Morning After has arrived, and just before California capsizes from the bad leadership of its elected officials and the irresponsibility of its voters. Tax revolts are mighty fine, just like gold rushes, but not when the same electorate insists on spending money on IOUs and demanding a nanny state on the cheap. Californians have to come to terms with their own bad choices as well as a political class that lacks the courage to say “no” to more spending, let alone cut the current level of spending to any great degree.
California voters need to practice what they’ve preached in this election. Bond issues need to go down to defeat. If the state doesn’t have the money to build prisons, schools, or any other facilities it needs, voters should demand that Sacramento find the money in the general fund and not from issuing bonds that will eventually have to be repaid anyway – with interest. Perhaps California civics lessons should start including a specific unit of instruction on what public bonds are, as one way of making this point stick.
Next, California needs to start dismantling its aggressive nanny-state agencies, especially those that overburden business. People come to California for the weather, and they leave from the lack of opportunity. High taxes, regulatory burdens, and oppressive worker-comp laws incentivize flight for those businesses able to relocate. California has to learn to compete for those investments, not by offering one-time breaks to companies looking for a new operations base but by making the state business-friendly to all.
It’s time for Californians to grow up. They have demanded services and refused to pay for them, and while the legislature is hardly blameless for the result, they’re not the entire cause of it, either. More than 30 years after the Proposition 13 tax revolt, the state’s electorate has refused to complete the task of bringing fiscal responsibility to Sacramento. Either they do it now, or be prepared to man the lifeboats or dance on the ceilings until the whole thing sinks into a sea of red ink. Be sure to read the whole column, and then read the others at AIP as well as their fine blog.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my vacation in Branson, and I want to thank those of you who dropped me notes wondering whether I was still alive. In fact, I’m one of the most spry people in this city, which isn’t terribly difficult to be, since I’m about 20 years younger than the median age. The shows are a lot of fun; I’ll write more about that when I return home. In the meantime, enjoy the terrific writing Allahpundit and our Green Room contributors keep producing this week, and you’ll hear from me next this weekend.
Update: A couple of commenters resent me blaming Californians instead of exclusively laying the blame on the legislature. Well, sorry, but California voters keep approving bond measures, creating more debt and debt-service requirements that are killing the state budget. Californians approved over $20 billion in bonds just last November, including a $10 billion bond measure for high-speed rail. Why is California, a state with a high-density highway system, going into the choo-choo business, an industry known for its red ink rather than speedy service? Because taxpayers can’t say no any better than the legislature they elect.