Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance and California's Budget

As it becomes clearer that Republicans are unlikely to get on board with Gov. Brown's proposals to extend several state taxes (to their credit) and abolish redevelopment agencies (to their shame), warnings of imminent doom are coming more frequently from the bureaucrats and the pundits. For example, this insipid piece from the LA Times informs us that the tax extensions will cost every Californian an average of $260 a year, if implemented. Never mind that this is, you know, your money, because
[T]he alternative stinks like last week's garbage. Even if the taxes are extended, the state would have to whack roughly $13 billion to make ends meet. Without the tax extension that amount would grow to something like $26 billion.

If it's all cuts, the consequences will be ugly. Public schools would lose about $5 billion, higher education about $1 billion. In a speech last week to the Legislature, Steinberg said, the legislative analyst's office warned "we will have to keep low-level offenders in the community, we will have to eliminate parole, but we will have to do all of that without any resources for local public safety officials…"
But, for sheer unintentional comedy, you really have to give today's prize to the Fresno Bee. In a piece entitled Budget Situation is Approaching 'Armageddon', the editors assure us that a budget impasse constitutes "an off-ramp on the road to economic recovery". Why? Because it "harms state contractors, threatens to shut down more bond-funded construction projects and sends a message that California is perpetually ungovernable." Yes, apparently we'll know the worst is over when state contractors and bond-funded construction workers are breathing easy.

Why is this unintentional comedy? Because it's on the same page as another editorial entitled Those With Money are Winners in State Budget Dealings. The second editorial describes how advocates for the disadvantaged are being politely ignored in Sacramento while their elected representatives go to bat to preserve corrupt redevelopment agencies and tax breaks for businesses in their districts. So, according to the editors of the Bee, the key to California's recovery is to give five more years of more money to the same corrupt morons who are largely responsible for the deficit in the first place.

If you're bright enough to be reading this blog, you're bright enough to realize that you've heard all of this before. When a politician wants more of your money, it's always the children, the elderly, and the infirm who'll suffer if he doesn't get it. Hospitals and schools will close, cities will disband their police and fire departments, Christmas will be cancelled, etc. This is because preserving the status quo is the goal of any sensible politician; spending tax dollars on the public's priorities is an afterthought at best. And make no mistake: what's going on in Sacramento now is a desperate effort by our political class and their cronies in the "private" sector to hold onto a status quo that's treated them well at taxpayer expense. They want to stave off deep spending cuts as long as possible, because such cuts will lead voters to ask tougher questions about corrupt municipal bureaucrats, corrupt CalPERS officials, corrupt redevelopment agencies, unsustainable public pensions, and Sacramento's role in an economy that's largely stagnated for two decades.

And that's the only way a conversation about meaningful reform is going to start: a refusal by the public to keep enabling the status quo. Which is why an all-cuts budget from the Governor would be a good thing.

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