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.

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Sat on the bench of the bench team huh? (17,000,000 did not vote),
I had three businesses in Calif. sold one, and moved the others out. Best move I ever made.
The only reason to have a business in Caif. is to sell and service who is there…besides the ag. business which rely’s on illegals.
Bsicall the only ones making money is the B2B, because the customer base is shrinking in Calif.
Highest workman’s comp, highest energy, taxes and fees, AQMD, state, county, city regs fighting against each other. Just to maintain your Corp status is 10 times what it is in NC.
It makes no economic sense to stay in Calif, unless your customers are there. And every year your customers are diluted from “white collar” to illegals.
The only net gain in population is from illegal’s, and they don’t have the purchasing power.
Thank your lucky stars for importing from China, take that away and So. Cal is a ghost town…they drove off all the manufacturers.
Thanks to your “61%” of liberals…

right2bright on May 21, 2009 at 2:19 PM

Sigh. Best move you ever made. Well, dammit, that’s it. I just must have forgot it’s a right2bright world. All this money must be worth less because it didn’t come through your pocket. Don’t dispute the regs. Never did. But, I do dispute that business is cookie-cutter and you’re the chef. Work is actually coming back from China because of quality and lead-time issues. Furthermore, short-run never left. Doesn’t make sense to have that overseas. Mexico business has also increased over the last 5 years. There’s no arguement about Californias unfriendly business environment. It is surely the hardest place in the US to prosper. But, if one can grow sufficiently, save for the future, and enjoy near perfect year-round weather, a person would be a fool for calling someone else a fool for staying. Circumstances differ. Most people respect that. Certainly, most conservatives do.

nico on May 21, 2009 at 3:00 PM

Oh, and the bench commment? Withering. Just withering.

nico on May 21, 2009 at 3:13 PM

can’t help myself. I was infected with the Common Sense virus at an early age. I also amd a born-and-bred Texan that has only spent 10 years in California, so the stupid here hasn’t quite gotten to me yet.

outOfElement on May 21, 2009 at 1:38 PM

“Flee for the hills!”. Never seen conservatives so eager to throw in the towel. And accuse fellow conservatives of stupidity for not following the crowd. Is this a “Woe is Me” branch I haven’t heard of? Talk about a lack of imagination. Or guts. Run away! Run away!

nico on May 21, 2009 at 3:22 PM

nico on May 21, 2009 at 3:22 PM

I have absolutely no idea what that means.

outOfElement on May 21, 2009 at 3:58 PM

Wow, if only every State could be as cool as California by introducing popular referendums.

Proof that pure democracy is pure lunacy, perhaps?

cackcon on May 21, 2009 at 4:19 PM

have absolutely no idea what that means.

outOfElement on May 21, 2009 at 3:58 PM

Excuse me. I just think conservatives in this state need to band together instead of lighting out for greener pastures. I’m not one of those who thinks the end is nigh. It’s not armageddon. California will never be God’s gift to fiscal responsibility, but I think everything has its cycles. It will lumber rightward. It has to. Sense will come of nonsense, though certainly not overnight. I thought that was germane to your common sense reference.

nico on May 21, 2009 at 4:28 PM

Sorry to go dark on this subject; it’s obviously a bit of a departure for me. But I sincerely hope that California suffers a brutally painful, no – a crushing economic blow – as a result of their idiotic, bi-polar stupidity at the polls.

I know that there are millions of decent people in California with conservative sensibilities, who have been responsible in their votes and their actions. And I know that they will be the least affected by a disaster there, because they are much more self-sufficient.

I also know that the worthless scum which suck up government services there without contributing to that society, and who benefit from the cheerleading of millionaire liberals there, will be slapped hard, and will quickly see their leftist patrons running for the hills to leave them twisting.

Better be armed and ready, folks.

Jaibones on May 21, 2009 at 4:33 PM

I know that there are millions of decent people in California with conservative sensibilities, who have been responsible in their votes and their actions. And I know that they will be the least affected by a disaster there, because they are much more self-sufficient.

Two little sentences and, voila!, 6,000,000 responsible California voters (and honest, hard-working Americans) are given the common courtesy of not being branded mental deficients. Thank you for that.

And, with that, I’ll move on.

nico on May 21, 2009 at 4:49 PM

As a citizen of California, who has always paid my own way, and has never qualified for any kind of help from the State (other than Disability benefits I was paid that had been taken from of my own paychecks), I do not appreciate being rebuked by Ed or any commenters anywhere for the corrupt state of affairs in CA. The trouble in this state is in the Lefty Democratic majorities who have managed to gerrymand the political districts to ensure a forever majority in the State Assembly & Senate. These are not just Liberals, think Nancy Pelosi type Socialists first, then Democrats second.

To them, only the little people have to balance a checkbook – not them. They purposely put forth these crazy legislative agends that drive small business owners out of the state by leaps and bounds; and they hurt the people they purport to help by allowing non-citizens to obtain the same benefits for food, housing, schooling, and medical BEFORE American citizens get a chance for the same. Like they are a priority.

Our troubles seemed to bubble to the surface four years ago when it because apparent that there are at least 20 to 30 million illegal aliens living here in CA alone, not just the USA. I know this because I am being crowded every where I go by non-english speaking people’s with non-Castillian Spanish accents no matter where I am in my local area (the East San Francisco Bay Area). Rarely do I hear anyone speaking English around me anymore.

That, my friends, is the real reason for the massive budget shortfalls we are experiencing. LA County released a Report a month or so ago admitting it costs them $1 Billion per month to service the illegal aliens living in that county alone. Times that figure by x-amount of counties (of course adjusting for the true numbers of enrollees in the other counties), and I bet you will find the overall number is very close to the overall budget shortfall.

BTW, I have nothing against hardworking folks just wanting better for themselves. I disagree with people breaking the law by not coming here legally and compounding it by using someone else’s SSN # which is then identity theft. That is two crimes per person, and that is too much.

So, I do not believe in blanket amnesty because it does not work (look at 1986 results to see my point).

Dian on May 21, 2009 at 5:27 PM

… a person would be a fool for calling someone else a fool for staying

nico on May 21, 2009 at 3:00 PM

Translation: Who’s the fool, fool???

Venusian Visitor on May 21, 2009 at 5:36 PM

Ed, thanks for the explanation. You’re the only reason I come to this site. Now I’ll take a few days off as well. I’ll be back when you’re back.

Phildorex on May 21, 2009 at 8:57 PM

Just wait until the ‘big one’ hits So. Cal, and it is definitely coming according to geologists and earth scientists. California’s deficit will be chump change compared to what it will cost to recover from that.

Selling the Ocean front property in the state-owned desert state parks just west of Nevada and Arizona might help offset the costs of recovery though.

SilverStar830 on May 21, 2009 at 9:03 PM

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.

Ed, nobody pays for these service who needs them. Like most of the United States under the control of the Democrats, “the rich” pay for the services, and those services are provided for free to those who are “not rich”.

Since the Dems have, wherever they have power, done their level best to ensure that 51%+ of the voting population is classified as “not rich”, those voters have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, in which they get the cafeteria of services for which they do not have to pay.

The problem isn’t just in California — its nationwide.

That’s why emergency rooms are under such stress — nobody is obligated to pay for the service. But when you point the finger at California, look around at all the other emergency rooms across the nation and tell me that they aren’t under the same kinds of stresses. Since health care is now a “right”, and that “right” is balanced on the backs of private companies (the companies that run hospitals), the problem is not a California problem, it’s a national one.

The thing that ticked the most voters off here was the 9+% “use tax” (aka “sales tax”) we now have on most items — a tax I feel is great because it is distributed evenly across all income levels. Ditto for the DMV fees — which the Gubernator had to apologize to Gray Davis about when he acquiesced to raising them. Taxes and fees (“fees” being the new way governments here get to raise taxes under Prop 13) which are evenly distributed across the population are the best way of, in the end, assuring that government is lean.

This isn’t just a California thing — it’s true everywhere 51% or more don’t pay taxes and vote for Obamanoids.

The LA Times called California “Too Big to Fail” in a headline today. Personally, when the two Representatives from Montana are put on the spot about bailing out California, I fully expect them to listen to their Montana constituents and “toe the line”. Multiply Montana by every other small-to-mid sized State in the Union (and possibly add in New York — why would even New York Democrats pay for their left coast “allies”?) and I think the LA Times is whistling in the wind. Obama will give California its allocated dose of Stimulus for free, but don’t expect any more freebies once hooked.

unclesmrgol on May 21, 2009 at 9:34 PM

Personally, Ed, I want the state to go bankrupt as a gigantic wake-up call regarding all these guaranteed education funds, money for utterly unessential genetic research, all part of just plain morbidly obese government. The SEIU can bite by asterisk. I still won’t vote to keep their pay grossly high while the state is hurting.

I am tired of being a responsible person if I am going to be the person the damn liberal-progressives tax to bring this state back into “balance”.

Basically, Ed, I don’t like your attitude. The people of the state have told the state government, trim do not tax. If they cannot, then we are bankrupt. We need bankruptcy protection while we trim out of control welfare, out of control and extremely ineffective education, and all the other socialist programs.

Watch them try to panic the state by claiming they’ll have to trim law enforcement and release prisoners before they trim what they SHOULD trim.


herself on May 22, 2009 at 4:08 AM