Posts Tagged 'California budget'

Rewriting History

My brother-in-law, Sandy, changed my reading habits dramatically when he bought me a subscription to the New York Review of Books.  Every two weeks an ungainly magazine arrives in our mailbox relatively devoid of advertising other than new books and the personals at the end of the magazine that include the pleas of widows and divorcees seeking the company of similarly oriented men.

What I enjoy most are the occasional glimpses of history that accompany the book reviews.  Being a relative neophyte whose exposure to history ended in the eighth grade, the information is fascinating.  Yes, some of the articles are beyond my comprehension such as a recent one dealing with the brain and how we think; that one might as well have been written by the ancient Greeks.

The June 23 issue contains an article entitled A New Approach to the Holocaust.  I am somewhat more conversant with that subject than others and, no matter how often I read about it, continue to be simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the events contained in that human tragedy.  Like a moth to the flame, I am drawn to anything written about it.

The article contains the usual story line that the Nazis had not intended the extermination of the Jews.  Rather, deportation was the original preferred method of solving the problem.  But things change, especially when your plans begin to go awry.  And 6,000,000 died.  In particular I found the following intriguing…

The Final Solution took place, but not according to plan.  Rather than being a war aim, it became part of the war itself.  Hitler in August 1941 spoke of a war against Jews.  That December, after the Soviets began a counteroffensive at Moscow and the Americans entered the war, Hitler spoke of a world war brought about by the Jews.

One of my brain synapses clicked and I remembered Sunday’s call from our darling daughter Nancy.  A good girl, she regularly calls to check on the emotional and clinical status of her parents.  Following the usual organ recital, the conversation occasionally switches to politics and, in particular, the elected imbecile of the day…which, with the recent exception of Anthony Weiner, generally focuses on Republicans.  Must be genetic.  Nancy launched into a five minute dissertation of Michelle Bachmann’s recent confusion of Founding Fathers and slavery.

Asked by George Stephanopolous if she stood by her earlier comments that the Founding Fathers fought to eliminate slavery, Michelle incorrectly identified John Quincy Adams as one of the Founders.  Stephanopolous, with a far greater grasp of history than I, pointed out that it was John Adams, Quincy’s dad, who was the Founder and that many of those guys were inveterate slave owners.  Given the opportunity to recant and admit her mistake, she did not.  In support of the Bachmann version of history, her supporters altered the John Quincy Adams page on Wikipedia to include him as a Founding Father (he was eight years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed.)  That alteration has since be corrected.

Michelle also misspoke the day before while in Waterloo, Iowa announcing her run for president, saying that John Wayne was born in Waterloo, Iowa, when in reality John Wayne Gaycee the serial killer was born in Waterloo, Iowa. The Wikipedia page for John Wayne was also changed to make his birthplace Waterloo, even though John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa.  Good thing the Duke isn’t around.

Having laughed this off as something not worth worrying about and having said good-bye to Nancy, I was then confronted with the Ventura Star’s Monday headlineGOP Pins Budget Cuts on Democrats.  The world’s greatest newspaper then went on…

Republicans hope to pin the blame for massive spending cuts to social  programs and higher education on Democrats, while claiming credit for holding  the line on taxes. Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, stressed  that the budget was “not ours…They’re the ones that chose who got cut. They are the ones that made their  priorities, and so if people are suffering and hurting, they need to contact the  people that did that to them.”

What?  Duh?  Refusing to negotiate any kind of revenue increase, these minority party bozos sat by and watched the Democrats slash and burn in order to try to balance California’s budget.  They gleefully participated in the travesty that allows a minority of the legislature to block any kind of tax increase.  And the Star, knowing full well that most of their subscribers only read the 16 point print, stoop to being co-conspirators.

Maybe I should go back to the eighth grade and pay more attention.  And maybe we should all stop laughing.

Flat Tax to the Rescue

Does it hurt yet?

11.6%.  One out of nine.  Two million one hundred and fifty-two thousand people.  That’s how many of your fellow Californians are out of work.  Sixty-six thousand more than last month.

Ho hum.  Another day at the office.  Harry Potter’s on the big screen.  The Dodgers are in first.  It’s cool at the Mall. The Governator and the legislature are arm wrestling.  Rome’s burning.  There must be someone who can put out the fire.

Maybe it’s the blue-ribbon commission that Ahnold and the Democrats put together this year to fix the state’s tax structure.  The world’s greatest newspaper, the Ventura Star, reported that the commission was about to hear testimony in support of a flat tax.  You know, that’s where everyone pays the same percent of their income.  The Star said, under a flat tax system, poor folks would pay more taxes while rich folks would pay less.  And all this time, I’ve been assuming that getting rich folks to pay more, not less, would help solve the state’s budget crisis.  Duh.

Alvin Rabushka, a Hoover Institution economist, has been trumpeting the benefits of a flat tax for twenty-eight years.  The Hoover Institution was founded by that great humanitarian and champion of the working man, Herbert Hoover.  For those of you standing in line for Harry Potter tickets, President Hoover presided over the Great Depression before being summarily dismissed by FDR.  The Institution’s mission statement includes…

Ours is a system where the Federal Government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves.

In other words, fend for yourself, you wuss.  FDR is not on their list of distinguished fellows.  Condoleezza Rice and Ed Meese are.

According to the Star…

Rabushka…believes a flat tax is a prescription for prosperity because it would reduce the tax load on the very wealthy, freeing them to use more of their money instead for wealth-creating investment.

In other words, if less money is taken from the rich, they’ll use their new-found wealth to create more jobs and get you off your lazy, unemployed duff.  You’ll earn more, pay more taxes and restore California to its former glory.  Remember trickle down?

Not so fast says Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for state policies that benefit low- and moderate-income families.

The Budget Project last month analyzed the most recent income tax data released by the Franchise Tax Board (for 2007) and found the income gap between middle-income Californians and the wealthiest continues to widen. Since 1995, it shows that incomes of the middle-fifth of state taxpayers have grown by 9.1 percent. The top-fifth of taxpayers have seen their incomes rise by 51 percent.

Jean thinks trickle down is really trickle up.

Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee, thinks the flat-taxers have a long road to hoe…

…a flat tax “would be an incentive for stimulating the economy,” but acknowledges it would be a hard sell to voters since it would result in most of them paying higher income taxes. “It’s going to be complex and difficult to convince people to make the move.”

OK, so if you don’t like the flat tax idea, why not get out of the Harry Potter ticket line and do something useful.  Like solve the California budget crisis.  I found this really nifty “You Balance the Budget” tool that will show you just how easy it is to find an extra $26 billion dollars.  Try it.

Then you can get back in the Potter line.

 flat tax

Feed Mayonnaise to the Tuna

I was listening with one ear to the news this morning.  NPR’s Steve Inski reported that Governor Terminator has offered some new, ground breaking proposals to balance the California budget.

Having already visited the LA Times website to find the latest on California’s trip to Armageddon and finding nothing but references to whether Michael Jackson was really alive and hiding in Venezuela, I carefully considered Ahnold’s latest outburst.  

The Gov’s ideas centered on increasing the number of unpaid days off for government employees, further reductions to aid for poor folks and, I think, the abolition of both houses of the legislature.  All of these solutions deserve careful consideration by Karen Bass, the Assemply leader, but she is chronically peeved and currently indisposed.

As I evaluated Ahnold’s latest brainstorm, I was reminded of that old Michael Keaton movie, Night Shift.  Michael and Henry Winkler work evenings at the city morgue.  Henry is straight-laced while Michael is just short of being a devious moron.  Keaton constantly spouts new ideas to make a few bucks, most of which border on the insane.  A particular favorite of mine involves reducing the effort required to make tuna salad.  Feed mayonnaise to the tuna, Keaton says.  Passing on that one, they succeed in using the morgue as a swell place to run a house of ill repute.

Now I don’t propose that we use the state capitol as a whorehouse.  Even though it’s been so-characterized by many.  However, the ideas emanating from the Governor’s office bear a striking resemblance to Keaton’s wild-ass money making schemes.  Hardly surprising, given Ahnold’s Hollywood success.

Not to be burdened by straight thinking, I hereby offer some good stuff that will help the Governor, Ms. Bass and our other elected representatives work themselves out of an unworkable situation.

Abolish the California Highway Patrol.  These young men and women are being unnecessarily exposed to danger.  Especially from those who, in spite of the legal prohibition, insist on using their cell phones while speeding through Von’s lot looking for a parking space that will minimize the need for feet.  The absence of the CHP will reduce the issuance of traffic tickets, the resultant increase in auto insurance premiums, and the need for anyone to appear in court pleading a lost cause.

Close all Middle Schools.  Give those kids three years off to play in the alley, drive their parents berserk and generally become a menace to society.  To minimize these negatives, build more skateboard parks.  They are cheaper than a Middle School and, according to park supporters, will prevent the kids from being bored and shooting their playmates (a further plus for my idea of abolishing the CHP.)

Free all prisoners. Yes, I know that we’ve been offered the idea of releasing some drug users and illegal aliens.  But why not go whole hog?  Remember the Kurt Russell movie, Escape from New York?  The crime rate got so bad in the U.S. that they turned the whole city of New York into a maximum security prison.  They gave the bad guys the whole joint.  No guards, they fended for themselves, had a ball.  We could do the same thing in California.  Fillmore comes to mind.  I’m sure you have your own favorite.

Three good ideas.  With help from the movies.  Gotta go now and feed mayonnaise to my fish.


Throw the bums out

Sweetie and I were cruising down the Dennison Grade yesterday.   Beautiful day, crystal clear even with that awful fire in Santa Barbara.  About halfway down the grade we stopped at the temporary stoplight that heralds the road work on the cliff-side.  Two guys with shovels were poking at the newly graded area.  “At this rate they may finish before the next ice age ” I said to Sweetie.

The radio came to life with the 10 o’clock news.  “State budget deficit to increase dramatically even if all six ballot propositions pass voter scrutiny on May 19.  Bills won’t be paid.  People in need will go without.”

“Those guys in Sacramento should be ashamed of themselves.  What do we need them for?” my lovely wife said in her own unique style.  “They should be doing their job.  It’s their fault we’re in this mess.  They shouldn’t get paid for doing nothing.”

I’ve been reading about 1A, 1B, 1C…that alphabet soup of unintelligible propositions that were once declared as the solution to our budget crisis.   Alas, the guiding light that provides the secret of life is all but missing as I wade through the available information.  Or maybe I’m just too lazy to cope with anything longer than one paragraph.

The Ventura Star tried to let us in on the secret last week.  But it took a page and a half to scratch the surface of just one of propositions.  The letters to the editor of the Star offer little in the way of sensible guidance.  More often than not they are the products of ignorance and political bias.  Frequently they seem to be produced by people who live in another galaxy.  Often more entertaining than the comics page…more often a sad reflection of what passes as intelligence.

Paid advertisements are no comfort…surprise!  While slicker and more emotional than the rantings of the letters to the editor, they are generally the products of people with ulterior and self-satisfying motives.

Current polls reflect Sweetie’s frustration.  They show that five of the six propositions are doomed.  Only F is getting a warm reception…banning pay hikes for legislators in deficit years…yippee.  As the LA Times reported yesterday…

If the propositions do not pass, the state could find itself as much as $23 billion short of the money it needs to pay its bills over the next year, according to a new forecast by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor. The poll, from the Public Policy Institute of California, found that even as voter interest in the ballot measures rises, all are trailing except the sixth one — Proposition 1F

The article also lists what will happen if the bills fail and revenue continues to fall.  Including commuting the sentences of 38,000 prison inmates and closing fire stations.  Howard Jarvis look-alikes say it’s just scare tactics.

And who’s to blame for this mess.  Start with the 1978 ballot proposition we, the voters, embraced.  Among other things, it gave a 1/3 minority in the legislature the ability to block tax increases.  The tip of the iceberg.

With nothing better to do I looked at the various ballot propositions  that we, in our infinite wisdom, passed during the last ten years.  Twenty-two authorized the issuance of bonds and directed how the loaned money was to be spent.  And for good measure, nine more simply restricted the ability of the legislature to collect or spend money.  That’s just the last ten years.  I peeked at the 1990’s and voter management of the state’s business is even more awe inspiring.  When you consider that we just passed Proposition 8 limiting the definition of marriage, you get some idea of our continuing wisdom.

Just in case you think the legislature will absorb its losses after May 19, regroup and negotiate a new deal, think again.  We, in a fit of pique, termed out most of the experienced representatives by voting for term limits.  The current crop of negotiators is operating with learners’ permits.  Heaven help us.

Oh, and for that vanishing breed of conservative Republicans who just want to slash and pillage, our per capita State government spending  in 2007 ranked us 26th in the country.  Just behind Iowa and slightly ahead of Montana.  Alaska, home of the Snow Queen, spent at three times our rate.

So who’s to blame for this mess anyway?  Got a mirror?


Who’s watching the store?

I see where Governor Ahnold has ordered all state employees to take two unpaid days off every month.  I’ll not weigh you down with the usual assortment of how hard state employees work  jokes.   This is no joke.

California is mired in a budget shortfall of something between two dollars and two trillion dollars.  The actual amount depends on who you ask and where their political flag is planted.  Our part-time legislature (yes, I know they get paid for a full time job) has been stymied by the misbegotten two-thirds requirement for passing a budget.  If it had been up to the majority of simple Democrats…oops, sorry about the misplaced modifier, we would have had a budget and raised taxes on Ahnold’s Hollywood and Silicon Valley friends to balance it…with a few teachers thrown on the political bonfire just to balance things a bit.

But Republicans, ever the guardians of taxpayer dollars (except for Iraq, Wall Street bailouts and protection of an auto industry that deserves to be sent to the scrap heap) insist on no new taxes.  Their balancing act focuses on the elimination of all expenditures other than police, prisons, and just enough lethal drugs to do away with anyone convicted of an offense greater than overtime parking.

We taxpayers seem to be numbed by the experience.  We think  “this is so awful that someone is bound to fix it before we all sink into ocean off  Zuma Beach.  Surely they will.”   There have been few marches to Sacramento.  No mass mailings to the guardians under the Golden Dome.  No bringing the phone company to its knees by an avalanche of calls to our elected representatives.  A lot of “woe is me” but not much action.  Quick, name the two people in Sacramento that represent your district.  See what I mean?

Ahnold’s directive of two days off for 238,000 state employees will save a bit over a billion dollars through June, or the amount of money spent on morning coffee in both houses of the legislature.  Now I don’t have a serious objection to the two days off each month.  What I do question is the method of implementation.  Obviously, delaying the passage of the budget for three months beyond the constitutional due date wasn’t enough time to figure this out.

Employees will be furloughed on the first and third Fridays of the month.  That means that the lights will be out at the DMV,  Caltrans will take more than the usual decade to complete a project, and unemployment case workers will be talking to themselves.  You’ll still be getting a speeding ticket from the CHP since they have a “no furlough” contract…and a gun.

Fortunately, prison guards, who also have guns and the world’s best union, will be able to stagger their furlough schedule.  At least someone was bright enough to figure that the inmates would take advantage of no one being at the office on Fridays.

I wonder why the same staggered schedule couldn’t have been applied to all state employees.  Maybe it’s because they don’t have guns.  Maybe because it isn’t really going to happen.  Maybe the whole thing is just Ahnold’s attempt to get our attention.  Or, maybe it’s his way of saying “if you don’t fix it, I’ll be back.”



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