As the hand-wringing over California's budget crisis in
Sacramento continues, the hard truth that the world's 8th economic
power is sliding into fiscal insolvency is finally starting to hit home
to rank and file Californians.
These same folks are realizing that they may be receiving actual IOUs for their state tax refunds and that their children are going to be packed like sardines into increasingly larger classes as more teachers from one end of the state to the other are laid-off. Cities and counties across the Golden State are preparing to severely dial-back all kinds of state funded programs and services -- the most critical of which involve public safety and health services.
California in recent years, sadly, has taken on a tarnish that has diminished its fabled and iconic reputation. In the not so distant past, the state was at the top of the national heap in terms of education, infrastructure and arts funding. Now, it ranks dead last or near it compared to the rest of the states.
As a general caveat, it's important to recognize that currently there are just too many demands of state funding, programs and special services by the people that make California the nation's most populous state. Generally speaking, more budget cuts can and should be made.Unlike the glory years of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, California finds itself in a new era of shrinking resources. State residents must get used to doing more with less state support in their lives in the years ahead. Moreover, the state's fiscal house is a disaster. Besides battling an unprecedented, nation-leading $42 billion budget deficit, California is expected to be literally cashless within a matter of a few weeks.
The state must get back to the aforementioned basics: Public safety, education and health care must be Sacramento's "pillar" concerns. But in order to restore those basic services (and other programs we care about) we're going to have to raise and re-establish new sources revenues -- i.e. taxes and fees. Even our celebrity Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, agrees that in order to save the state's fiscal backside, the re-establishment of programs like the infamous vehicle license fee (VLF) and the implementation of a temporary hike in the sales tax must occur.(And, yes, the VLF is ironically the very same blunt instrument that Schwarzenegger used to chase former Gov. Gray Davis from office during the 2003 recall election.)
At the crux of California's current fiscal troubles is a standoff -- on one side -- between Schwarzenegger, the majority statehouse Democrats and a small cadre of Republican lawmakers who continue to play a dangerous ideological game that threatens to fiscally break the state's back. These legislators -- most all pledged to national anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist -- wield power due to the arcane nature of the California Constitution, which requires state budgets to be approved by a two-thirds margin, instead of a simple 50 percent plus one majority like they are in most every other state in the nation.
While state Republicans may be scoring points with their conservative constituents, they are holding the rest of the state and its densely populated urban Democratic cores, hostage. They have gone from being hard-line ideologues to rogue obstructionists who by their actions have arguably violated their oaths of office to serve and protect the state. After all, doesn't knowingly forcing the state into insolvency represent some sort of intentional malfeasance of office?
Then again, perhaps they should be allowed to just take California over the falls. Then voters could see exactly who was responsible for making their already hard lives more difficult. However, the more likely scenario is that these Republican ideologues -- with their 'shrink government down until it's the size of something that can be drowned in a bathtub' (Norquist's self-stated mantra) -- will keep their boots on the necks of their fellow Californians for as long as they can.
Only when a ballot measure is passed that amends the Constitution's budget voting requirements will true and fair 'majority rule' be restored to Sacramento.