Why California is screwed
California effectively has four branches of government: The governor, the legislature, the courts, and the ballot initiatives. And these last have ripped through our finances. The firms that build ballot initiatives aren't stupid: People like what they don't think they're paying for. Sparkly sidewalks are good. Sparkly sidewalks that require higher taxes are bad. And so most ballot initiatives pass without a revenue source. Which means they're paid for out of general revenues. Which means there is less money for everything else. The legislature cannot reject the initiatives, but both their bills and the ballot proposals are coming from the same pool of money. So the legislature returns after the elections and must now build a balanced budget -- including all the same programs, plus population growth, plus anything new -- without $600 million that used to fund education but is now allocated to more sparkles in the sidewalk.
And we're looking at a considerable sum that's out of their control. Last August, Mark Paul estimated that these programs were now equivalent to about 9% of the total general fund, "or about the total cost of all of today's state social service programs."
Then, of course, is the second problem: The legislature effectively can't raise revenues. Taxes require a 2/3rds majority and California's Republicans are mono-maniacally anti-tax. It is, after all, the only thing they can control. So essentially, California operates with a government that can't control either spending or revenues. It's not a good situation.
So I think the solution is some combination of:
- Reform the ballot initiative system so it's harder to get initiatives passed, or invalidate all unfunded ballot initiatives.
- Repeal Prop 13 (a ballot initiative!) that requires a 2/3 majority to raise taxes, and allows property taxes to get wildly out of synch with property values (but only in the direction that limits revenue).
- Abolish the 2/3 requirement to pass a budget.
- Defeat enough Republicans so that Democrats can get to 2/3 on their own.
- Reform the Republican party so that they aren't so hostile to raising revenue.
I understand that nobody likes taxes and that taxes that are too high can damage the economy. But current Republican orthodoxy is ALWAYS hostile to raising revenue. It doesn't matter if there are two wars or a massive budget shortfall, raising any kind of revenue is always anathema. This is not principle. This is lunacy.