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War, taxes, Presidents, and Governors

by Alan Markow, published

I'm having a lot of trouble reconciling the ease with which the President of the United States unilaterally took our country into war against Libya with the difficulty that the Governor of California is having gaining authority to give the citizens of California the right to vote on whether or not the state should tax us more aggressively to resolve the budget crisis.

Since the introduction in 1973 of a highly controversial act of the United States Congress called the War Powers Resolution, presidents have been barred from taking the nation into war without specific authorization by Congress.  Yet, neither the War Powers Resolution nor the majority opposition control of the House of Representatives prevented President Obama from entering into a third military venture in the Middle East -- putting American troops in harm's way without approval by a single member of Congress.

Governor Jerry Brown promised the voters of California that he would not raise taxes without a vote by the public on the issue.  Despite control of the state legislature by his own Democratic party, the governor has not been able to move Republicans to even consider the idea of a statewide plebiscite on the issue of taxes.  For the GOP, even allowing a referendum on taxes is tantamount to political treachery.

But the state is some $26 billion in the hole, is in danger of defaulting on its debt, can't deliver its budget on time year-after-year, and has gained a reputation of being "ungovernable" after even a Hollywood superstar noted for saving the world (on film) failed to move us off the dime.

The problem with the Republican position is that it appears to be driven not by principle, but by ideology.  The "no taxes" mantra is a more recent evolution that resonates with ideologues, some libertarians and conservative talk radio hosts; accordingly, it has overtaken the national Republican Party and seems to be a der rigeuer belief for state GOP membership.  There are few economists, however, who support the theory that tax cuts will stimulate the economy enough to grow tax revenues to replacement or greater levels.  Yet, during California's worst fiscal crisis, the Republicans refuse to even put revenue increases up for consideration, and they are completely undemocratic in their refusal.  They don't trust citizens enough to let us vote on the matter.

So while President Obama takes the nation to war without required Congressional consultation (or as some demand, an actual congressional declaration of war according to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution), Governor Brown cannot even get the opposition party to agree to a vote by the people on his proposed tax increase to help resolve a massive budget shortfall.

I have no idea how people will vote on this issue (most votes go against higher taxes, so I wouldn't bet on this one), but I'm genuinely bothered by the partisan refusal to even consider the matter of a vote.  California's legislators kick many important social and cultural issues to the peoople for a vote -- same sex marriage, legalization of marijuana, the freezing of property taxes.  We have a history of dealing with issues at the ballot box.  Why now has the Republican Party decided to draw a line in the sand?

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