Friday, July 22, 2011

"Anti-Tax Extremism" at the Sacramento Bee?

As anyone running for office on a libertarian platform could tell you, it's tough to sell an idea to the public if the news media is against it. Which is why it's so interesting to see the dean of California journalism, Dan Walters, making so much sense these days in the pages of the Sacramento Bee. In recent days, Walters has written some very sharp commentary on the high speed rail debacle and the coming pension crisis, and today he pokes holes in, of all things, the argument for higher taxes.

Walters' point is one we've made many times: why raise Californians' taxes if the money is wasted anyway? As examples of this waste, he points to the $400,000 salaries given to the new president of San Diego State and the new chairman of the board of the state-funded stem cell research institute, the $3 million given to Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to promote the high speed rail project, and the $777,000 salary that Dr. Jeffrey Rohlfing gets for not treating patients. We could, of course, offer many, many more examples (Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, anyone?). To Walters, Californians are understandably reluctant to pay higher taxes when they see the money enriching government employees rather than going to public services.

Insofar as arguments like this are routinely denounced as "anti-tax extremism" by papers like the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, it does make us smile to see them expressed by a highly respected journalist in the pages of the Bee. Nevertheless, we would've liked Walters to connect a few more of the dots. For critical observers of the political scene in California, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that something more than waste and incompetence is at work in Sacramento. The political classes running this state aren't just unable to live within their means or provide the sort of "good government" that corresponds to the priorities and demands of Californians; they're also unwilling to do these things. Doubtless, there's plenty of incompetence going on. But when you see a Governor and Legislature determined to bully voters into higher taxes at any cost, determined to increase taxes and economic regulations at a time when concerns about jobs are foremost in Californians' minds, cutting off support to universities, school districts, health services, and city governments rather than touching obvious examples of waste like the ones Walters cites, brazenly defying the voters by violating Props 22, 25, and 26 in the passage of the most recent budget, and searching for ways of gutting the referendum process, there's clearly a contempt for good government at work as well.

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