As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, December 19, 2008

We're Going To Need A Bigger Boat

I appreciate Bob's sentiment that the time is now to fight the Governor and the Yacht Party and bring some sanity into the fiscal process, but my fear is that the time for that was three years ago, when the successful fight against the special election should have been built upon, and at this point, we're already swirling in the bowl.

Let's just get you up to date. All infrastructure projects are currently shut down. Unemployment nudged up to 8.4% in November, the state lost 41,700 jobs last month, and up to 200,000 more jobs are on the chopping block from the public works freeze if it continues. Meanwhile the Governor is ordering up layoffs and furloughs for state workers, so just add those on top of the pile. You're likely to see a 10% cut in state employees, and a 10% reduction in the salaries of those who remain. More job loss means less income tax and probably less sales tax, as well as more need for public assistance.

And that's before a budget which could have further reductions to state employee paychecks, elimination of overtime and meal breaks, etc., is signed. Not to mention the billions more in cuts that the Democrats included in their work-around plan which the Governor threatened to veto. Schools, which were slated for $4 billion in cuts in that budget, have already gotten the jump on the state by cutting back their local budgets. After-school sports, libraries, and new teachers are probably all going to go.

This is a nightmare beyond the ability of many, even myself, to comprehend. It's so big that it'll affect everything, and the idea that a ragtag band of liberals have the power to stop the freight train from coming down the track is precious, but I think wrong. This is the accumulation of 30 years of bad policy and worse government structure, and that's not going to be turned around in the time it needs to be to avoid catastrophe. Even George Skelton, poohbah of all poohbahs, admits that the Yacht Party is so nakedly ideological that they have made the state dysfunctional. This work-around budget is good for the time being, but Schwarzenegger is clearly committed to hijacking that process. It's a large game of chicken that none of us can afford. And as I've noted, even balancing the budget - which the work-around does not do - will not necessarily restart infrastructure spending, and even federal help might not be able to do that.

Changing the constitution with a convention is a nice idea, but not so easy in practice, as we all know.

Talk of calling a constitutional convention has been banging around California for at least the last few decades — maybe since 1851, for all I know — and it's gotten a lot louder recently. Here, however, is the rule for calling a convention:

The Legislature by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership of each house concurring, may submit at a general election the question whether to call a convention to revise the Constitution. If the majority vote yes on that question, within 6 months the Legislature shall provide for the convention. Delegates to a constitutional convention shall be voters elected from districts as nearly equal in population as may be practicable.

In plain English: you need a two-thirds vote of the legislature to put an initiative on the ballot and then you have to get it approved by the voters. The problem is that no matter how sweetly liberals might croon about what a convention could do, conservatives all know the truth: the whole point of the thing would be to get rid of our insane two-thirds requirements for passing budgets and raising taxes. Unfortunately, our whole problem is that Republicans control (slightly more than) one-third of the legislature. And if we can't get them to vote for a tax increase in the first place, what are the odds we could get them to vote for a constitutional convention called for the express purpose of making it easier to increase taxes? About zero.

OK, but how about a simple initiative? We could get rid of the two-thirds rule just by collecting signatures and getting a majority vote, right?

Right. And we tried that just a few years ago. Prop 56 was supported by all the usual good government groups and would have reduced the majority needed to pass budget and tax measure from two-thirds to 55%. A bunch of other fluff was added to make it more popular ("rainy day" funds, no pay for legislators if they don't pass a budget, etc.), and in the end..... got whomped 66%-34%. No one was fooled for a second. Everyone knew the whole point was to make it easier to raise taxes, and so it lost in a landslide.

I think a similar proposition to 56 wouldn't crash so hard today, but it would certainly go in as an underdog, because the majority of the state still doesn't understand the consequences of all this failure. It's a "dysfunctional electorate," as K-Drum puts it, as well as a dysfunctional government.

Do we need to fight? Yes. But we need some arms shipments from Washington (metaphorically speaking) before we can do that. A rescue package for the state is desperately needed, and it got a whole lot more so yesterday when the Governor vetoed the work-around.

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