Just Prisoners There, Of Their Own Device
Quite right. Californian Kevin Drum takes as a given that his state is “broken” but sees no solution in sight. While he’s in favor of Governor Schwarzenegger’s idea of a constitutional convention to fix some of the institutional flaws that has the Golden State in this mess, he notes that the same institutions likely preclude said convention from working:
[I]n order to even hold a constitutional convention, it has to be put on the ballot and approved by a majority of the electorate. And how does the question get put on the ballot? It has to be approved by two-thirds of the legislature. But this is the problem we’re trying to solve in the first place: to pass a budget or raise taxes takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature, and Republicans have enough votes to stop that from happening. Votes that they use regularly. So why wouldn’t they also stand in the way of a constitutional convention whose main purpose would almost certainly be to remove the two-thirds requirements for passing a budget and raising taxes?
No reason, really.
George Will is one of the few elite outlyers on this one, calling the rejection of the various ballot measures designed to cope with the present economic crisis “sensible,” noting that each Proposition had rather serious flaws (Drum calls them “mostly gimmicks“). Still, even Will concedes that,
California’s voters are complicit in their state’s collapse. They elect and reelect the legislators off whom public employees unions batten. Also, voters have promiscuously used their state’s plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. In November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed-rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles — a delight California cannot afford.
Matthew Shugart notes that, while the needed measures managed to garner a mere one third of the vote, “the stupid one” passed “with nearly three fourths of the vote.” He suggests that furloughs — i.e., simply sending state employees home without pay — is a likely consequence. Megan McArdle, meanwhile, thinks California may be “too big to fail” and get a federal bailout.
Update (Steve Verdon): Just thought it is worth pointing out that if California had limited its budget increases to inflation plus rate of population growth the state would either have a much, much smaller deficit or even a surplus. When people complain about not being able to raise taxes they ignore the spending side of the equation. The implicit assumption is that the spending is just fine and not out of control, and it most certainly is out of control. For example, take former Los Angeles Police Chief Benard Parks.1 He currently collects a salary of about $179,000 as a member of the City Council. However Parks also collects about $265,000 from his pension for being the police chief. That is a total annual income of around $444,000, and pension plans are generally considered “off the table” when it comes to looking at balancing the budget.
The California problem is the problem in with government that has tremendous discretionary powers: there is little in the way to ensure the state behaves in a responsible manner. Add to the mix special interest groups and rent seeking and you have the potential for big problems. Yes it is in part the fault of the voters for going down this road. But at the same time there are politicians and special interest groups that have been sucking up vast amounts of money too.
1Yes, as the former LA Police Chief and member of the LA City Council those are all Los Angeles issues, not state issues. However, Los Angeles is very much a microcosm of what is wrong with the State. Los Angeles is running a deficit, with few options in terms of raising revenues. There are powerful unions that have tremendous influence with the City Council and the Mayor. Los Angeles problems can be laid primarily at the feet of unrestrained spending. Sound familiar? It should, that is California writ large.