Give Me Your Clothes, Your Boots and Your Taxes.
The California budget situation is out of control. As of September 2, the state's budget is 64 days late and no apparent solution for the $15 billion deficit has yet emerged. The state has set a new record for the longest time it takes to approve its budget. The state legislature, meanwhile, busies itself with bitter bickering reminiscent of a playground fight in a special education kindergarten class; Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing the role of an ambitious, yet inexperienced teacher with a degree from an obscure university, attempts to arbitrate and alienate both parties.
It has been a difficult summer for California. The foreclosure crisis and soaring fuel costs had led one of the world's biggest economies into troubled times. The difficulty of closing the deficit gap also stems from the way certain California laws work, and how business is conducted. The state is one of the very few that requires a two-thirds majority to approve a budget or a tax raise, which presents a great difficulty in a politically charged governing body. Also, a lot of government spending is mandated by state laws which must be approved by the voters, such as certain health and education expenditures.
Still it is the government's job to deal with and resolve crises, and the California government is not doing its job. The Democrats propose to raise the sales tax by 1 percent, and the Republicans want to implement cuts in spending and increase in borrowing, while blocking every attempt at a tax raise. Both of these proposals have flaws. The sales tax is a flat rate and would disproportionately affect the poorest citizens, who have been hit the hardest by the current housing crisis and rising food and fuel prices. Perhaps a better idea would be to have a smaller sales tax raise and instead offset the deficit with an increased income tax and property tax for the wealthiest citizens.
The republicans, fundamentally opposed to tax increases, propose a near-$10 billion spending cuts and borrowing from the future lottery revenue (a big part of which is used to fund education). It is appropriate to stress that this revenue is only projected; therefore a part of California's budget would depend on the faith in citizens' gullibility. With their proposals, the Republicans demonstrate their usual short-sightedness. Spending cuts will hurt the already ailing health and education. Borrowing money will only result in a greater deficit next year. Republicans are holding on to a core party ideology that has created a false reality. Tax hikes are extremely unpopular in the U.S., yet the situations in Europe and Canada prove that people are willing to pay more taxes if the money is used to provide social benefits.
Schwarzenegger is still unsuccessful in trying to mediate the crisis, or propose a working solution. So far he has ordered lay-offs and temporary pay cuts for hundreds of thousands of state employees. State Controller John Chiang refused to abide by the governor's order, with a little help from technology (man's greatest enemy, according to the "Terminator" movies). The state's payroll system is so antiquated that a quick change to workers' paychecks is not feasible. David J. Farber, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told the New York Times (Aug. 6, 2008) that in August, "There are no Cobol [the payroll software] programmers around anymore. They retired centuries ago." This is a blatant exaggeration; Cobol was developed in 1959, less than half a century ago.
The governor alienated his own party by supporting the democratic tax hike proposal, yet tried to appease the Republicans by promising to lower the sales tax after three years to the level below current. However it is doubtful that California will have a budget surplus in three years to cover the tax cut. In the New York Times, (Sept. 3, 2008) Jean M. Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan group that analyzes state finances, is quoted as saying that there has been a budget crisis for "virtually the entire decade." The funds that would allow for the tax to be lowered in three years would have to come from an undisclosed, possibly magical source, (or lottery revenues). At this point the Republicans should propose searching for pots of gold, if only rainbows didn't carry so much gay pride connotation.
The elected heads of government of California are not doing what they are supposed to - representing the interest of the people. Cuts have been made to health and education funding, including grants for community college students, and until the budget is approved the fate of the institutions that rely on government funding remains uncertain. In the next election, the people of California have to consider their choices carefully. Third party or independent voice has not been heard in the state legislature for nearly a decade. The budget crisis is used as a field for partisan battles. This is not a fair representation of the people in any way.