The clueless seem to be in charge

I’m having a lot of fun of the schadenfreude variety watching the California budget mess head down to the wire. Train wrecks are lots of fun as long as it’s not you in the train. My sister and her husband do live in California, however, and he does work for the state, so I may have to send them a CARE package any day now.

The LA Times has a good story here (click!) on the latest.

What’s interesting, even at this late date, is the absolute refusal of Republicans to consider any tax hike. Admittedly, California already has high taxes in some ways — LA County is near 10 percent in sales tax now — but in other ways the historical antipathy towards taxes of any sort, a nationwide trend but really big in California, is now coming back to bite them.

People getting together for their tea parties again this Saturday may want to take note: Blanket opposition to taxes can leave you with an unmanagable fiscal mess. If we want our society to function, we have to have public services and we have to pay for them. We need to tax ourselves because nobody else is going to pay for these things.

In California a lot of it started with Proposition 13, back in the 1980s, which limited the ability of local jurisdictions to  raise property taxes by essentially freezing them on a property until the property sold. The hope was to keep seniors from losing homes they’d bought decades before just because property values went up but their income didn’t, but without a way to keep all property taxes fair this left California with the odd situation of identical properties next door to each other paying wildly different taxes for the same exact services.

That was the first blow. Entities that needed money they would have, in the past, raised through property taxes then hadto go to the state for funds.

Since then Californians had passed numerous referendums that require specific projects, set out a crazy budget approval process that requries a 2/3 majority for approval of any tax hike, and generally made it impossible to raise money even as Californians grew stinking rich on inflated property values.

It was, at best, a shaky proposition.  Columnist George Skelton discusses the basic fixes that California needs to undertake to get out of this mess — essentially blowing the entire government up and starting over. His column is here (click!).  

The lesson for all of us in Utah, as we enjoy the specticle, should be clear: Be careful about tax cuts. They’re great fun, every politician loves them, but we need to get this country back to a place where we know what sort of government we’re buying and what it’s going to cost us.

Tea Parties are in precisely the wrong direction — the correctly note that President Obama is spending a lot of money we don’t have now, but neglect to point out that President Bush, and Reagan, and Bush the First, all spent trillions that they didn’t have either. Where were the protestors then?

Off spending the tax cuts that were supposed to balance the budget, that’s where.

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18 Responses to The clueless seem to be in charge

  1. Jim Hutchins says:

    Another pervasive problem in California budget politics has been the mandates that have been imposed by the voters in some 40 years’ worth of ballot initiatives.

    Each one is innocuous or even helpful on its face, but if I recall correctly, less than 50% of the state budget is under the control of lawmakers.

    The only idea I’ve heard suggested that makes sense to me is a state constitutional convention. There’s a lot of danger in that approach, however, and I fear it’s the anarchist in me that thinks it’s a good idea.

  2. dan s. says:

    The initiative process in California is out of control. There are dozens of initiatives on the ballot in each election, and millions of dollars spent by special interests on deceptive advertising for and against each initiative. It’s just not practical for the typical voter to become educated enough on each initiative to make an informed decision.

  3. M.L. says:

    I have to disagree with your opinion that the TEA parties are the wrong way to go.

    You seem to be under the impression that TEA parties are only about taxes. You are wrong. It’s about speaking out against a government that is completely out of control. I have no problem paying my taxes. What I have a problem with is the fact that no matter who is in charge back there they can’t balance their darn budgets! If I did that in my personal finances I would have to file bankruptcy every year.

    You should go read what the 4th of July TEA parties are about at Mr. Wildmon’s team has put together a great webpage about it.

  4. ctrentelman says:

    I would have a lot more respect for the tea party folks if they had started doing their thing back when President W. was (a) cutting taxes and (b) declaring a war against Iraq while (c) claiming that cutting taxes would balance the budget which (d) has never, ever, happened. Bush even made matters worse by having the Iraq war spending done “off budget” as emergency allocations — they didn’t count to the deficit.

    That’s runaway government and incredible fiscal mismanagement, and added $4 trillion to the national debt, but where were the tea party protesters then?

  5. Cathy says:

    Totally agree with Dan S. about the ballot initiatives. The inmates are running the asylum. America is a republic, not a democracy.

    For those who don’t know the difference (quite a few of us, apparently), here’s a reference:

  6. M.L. says:


    I can understand the point you are trying to make. I’ll try to reply.

    I agree with every point you made about Bush — I can’t believe that I actually voted for him for a second term — but JOhn Kerry? He was worse. The bottom line is that as American’s we are lazy. What? It’s true. We are lazy. We go vote for these bums and then expect them to represent us — and they don’t. The two party system is broken — there is almost no difference between the two parties any longer.

    I think that the current president is just getting the rap for the last 21years of bad Presidents and congresses. In fact, thinking back, I can’t really name ONE good thing that any of those men did during that time. Including our own representatives.

    I think there has been a long long period of time where a silent majority has been sleeping — and now we are fed up. This is not just about taxes. This is about a very small minority of people attempting to force things on the American majority THAT WE DO NOT WANT.

    We are in the middle of a depression no matter what the main stream media or government would have us believe. Unemployment is now averaged at 9.5%. We are ‘bailing out’ private corporations and banks. We are printing money that HAS NOTHING BACKING IT! We have special interest groups pushing: healthcare reform, gay marriage, global warming, gun rights, free speech…the list can go on and on.

    Do any of those things just make you so mad you could spit? THAT is what the TEA parties are about. I am mad that I have to get out of my lazy daze and yell at my representatives that they are not doing their jobs! I feel that I shouldn’t have to do that. Maybe that is irresponsible of me. No. That is irresponsible of me. So I’ve decided to start standing up and make my voice heard. And the TEA parties are a great place to start.

  7. Ryan Bishop says:

    Well said M.L., I couldn’t agree with you more.

    What’s going on in California can’t be fixed with tax-hikes anyway. That’s like a firefighter trying to put out a fire with gasoline. The more they add the more the fire consumes, but it never goes out.

  8. ctrentelman says:

    so if I understand ML correctly, the tea parties are for people who are mad at everything, regardless? You list a lot of things there, after all.

    My problem: No solutions seem to be offered.

    I mean, the health care reform you list as something that angers you is a solution to the very serious problem of the US having one of the most expensive and most rationed and selective medical systems on the world.

    Global warming is a direct threat to our livlihood and well-being. Nobody is threatening anyone’s gun rights that I am aware of, and gay marriage is none of my business because I’m not gay and my 29-year-old marriage is doing just fine, and will continue to do so regardless of what the two guys down the street do, thanks very much.

    If the TEA parties are just some sort of unfocused “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more” thing, well, go for it, have fun, but when you come home you’re still going to have the same problems. They’re not going to go away.

    If you agree you should have been more involved in the past, hey, fine, but unfocused anger is hardly the best approach now. People getting angry, and saying “Damn it, let’s just solve this the simple way” is how California got into the mess it’s in with all those initiatives that have locked the state into mandatory spending.

    and yes, that includes California’s Prop. 13, which was designed to solve one problem “simply,” by freezing property valuations on the tax rolls, but had unintended consequences that are very very obvious today. People who say “just make politicians quit spending money!” seem to forget that they spend that money because you, I, we, all demand that they do.

    Until we all rise up and say “Quit building roads! Quit buying F-22 fighter planes! Quit making sure my water is clean!” we are going to have this problem.

  9. M.L. says:

    I’ll focus on one issue then. Since you seem to think that I’m ‘unfocused’.

    “I mean, the health care reform you list as something that angers you is a solution to the very serious problem of the US having one of the most expensive and most rationed and selective medical systems on the world. ”

    Huh? Rationed? How is it rationed? It’s called FREE ENTERPRISE.

    There are an estimated 45 million people in the US that are uninsured. If there are approximately 304 million people currently living here…that’s what? 15% if I round it up to the nearest percentage point. And according to recent statistical data more than HALF of that 15% is made up of illegal immigrants.

    My fixes to this problem?

    1. Have STATES pass laws against HUGE malpractice claims – that would lower the malpractice insurance rates for doctors and hospitals – who in turn could then lower costs for patients.
    2. Enforce the immigration laws — that is a rant and a debate for another day — but the majority of the costs that get passed onto the other 92% of hospital patients is from illegals who don’t or can’t or won’t pay their bills.

    I’ve been a receipient of goverment sponsored health care — anyone remember FHP? ( I think that is what it was called….) Anyway, it was awful.

    Massachusets has a state government backed medical program. Go look at the recent polls about it. People dislike it immensely and feel that the QUALITY of their healthcare has diminished.

    Our government can’t run ANYTHING effectively or efficiently (ie POST OFFICE) — and yet we are willing to trust them with fixing our healthcare issues?!!

    I don’t think that this is an issue for the federal government to be involved in. It’s a state commerce problem that should be resolved locally.

  10. Jim Hutchins says:


    What you need is a little data.

    Look at figure 4 (Health Care Spending as Percent of GDP), compare the spending to life expectancy, and tell us again how this is the right way to do things.

    I suspect, based on your posts, that you’re a “Starve the Beast” conservative. That was President Reagan’s rhetoric, yet government *grew*, not shrank, under his administration. “Beggar Thy Neighbor” capitalism is not only immoral, but it doesn’t work, either.

  11. Charles Trentelman says:

    Actually, there was an astonishingly good piece in the NYTimes a bit ago about how our medical system is rationing — in several levels.

    First off, it’s rationed to those who can afford it. Determining who gets medical care by means, not by need, is rationing, just not real fair rationing.

    Second, even those who can pay for it, either by buying insurance or just paying the tab, have to give up something else. If you have to pay out $20,000 for surgery, that is 20 grand you don;t have to pay for a home, for food, for education, or whatever. If you get the surgery, then declare bankruptcy, you spread the cost over all of society — you socialize it — which is what hospitals do now anyway by charging you $700 to put a band-aid on your cut.

    Third, our medical system is already partially socialized — your so-called “free enterprise” is really a “We cannot lose money” system operated by insurance companies which set taxes (pardon me — premiums) to be paid to cover everyone’s medical costs whether they get sick or not, then studiously refuse to pay half of all claims (think I exagerate? Talk to the billing department at any dental clinic), find reasons to decline coverage of the sick, and generally make sure the company makes money while nobody but the healthy get medical insurance.

    That’s not free enterprise, my friend. That’s highway robbery. As a way to deliver health care, it is sloppy, inefficient, expensive and cruel.

    medicare, operated by the government, does a vastly better job. All my friends who use it are happy as clams.

  12. M.L. says:

    I am not a Starve the Beast conservative — nor am I a Reagan fan. I am not a Hannity fan, nor a Limbaugh fan.

    There is not ONE president in the last 100 years that I have respect for. At all. Much to my husband’s dismay.

    At heart I guess I have more of Founding Fathers philosophy: Any power not specifically assigned to the federal government by the Constitution shall reside with the States.

    I am a young conservative Christian woman. I think that will leave me in the vast minority on this ‘blog’. I believe that small governments work better than the huge ugly grinding machine that we have now. It is broken and needs to be fixed. Do I have the answers for that? no. Only vague ideas that I can’t bouce off of anyone without being attacked for being ‘a conservative idiot/hack that knows nothing’ or ‘you are so naive’. I have not personally attacked any of you — all I did in my first post was indicate that I thought the original statement of “TEA parties are the wrong place to start” was incorrect.

    As far as health care spending: I will agree that as Americans we spend too much. I agree with that. It’s not ‘fair’. As far as the graph on that link: it’s not comprehensive to specific situations. Allow me to ellaborate. Briefly. I’m not going to quote statistics — nor do I have the time to provide links to all the scientific journals and medical journals that I’ve read the information in — but most of it is common sense and speaking to people from other countries.

    The shorter lifespan for Americans can be attributed to that fact that we are fat, lazy, and the idea of walking the 5 blocks to the grocery store is offensive — why should I when I have a car?. Going outside to play is non-existant among children now – they stay inside and play video games or watch American Idol. More than half of our diet is junk food and most people look at fruits, vegetables, milk and basic grains as ‘rabbit food’ – why would I eat that? No truly, those are the attitudes that I am confronted with DAILY — even from my own family members.

    Top three American health concerns: heart disease, cancer and obesity — all of which are attributed to our lifestyle. In America — we go to the doctor for every little sniffle so that he can give us the ‘miracle pill’ to fix it. We even go to the doctor to get pills to fix our weight problems….when what we should probably do is exercise and eat healthy foods.

    European countries have less heart disease, less cancer and obesity overall. why? They eat home cooked meals, they walk to the markets almost every day, they walk to work, they walk for everything. Very few people own cars. I will even go so far as to say that they aren’t in love with their TVs. Prepared food items with tons of preservatives, HFCS, RbsT and all the other ‘bad’ stuff on the market in our country is not allowed at all in some European countries. ALL of that contributes to a healther society that DOESN’T need constant visits to the doctor and people live longer.

    In America — we go to the doctor for every little sniffle so that he can give us the ‘miracle pill’ to fix it. We even go to the doctor to get pills to fix our weight problems….when what we should probably do is exercise and eat healthy foods.

    So, you tell me how we fix this?

    Will the government pass a law that says ‘Everyone must exercise 30 minutes a day and eat at least 1 vegetable at every meal’. No, of course they won’t. Then people would be screaming that the government is intruding too much in their lives by saying what they should do and eat every day.

    And hey — why am I the only one that is being called upon to ‘explain’ myself? I haven’t seen any of YOU throw out ideas. So I’ll just assume that you agree with BKO’s plan to: just throw $2 TRILLION dollars at it. I’m sure that that will fix it.

    Wonder what that will make your graph look like? And I also wonder if you find that ‘fiscally’ responsible?

  13. Jim Hutchins says:

    I see more of where you’re coming from now, ML. Sorry if you felt attacked. I don’t think I was doing it. It’s an interesting discussion.

    How would I fix it? If I were King of the Known Universe, I would create incentives for healthy behaviors, and increase \penalties\ for unhealthy behaviors. For example, we can easily calculate the \cost\ of a Big Mac to society, or of a cigarette, or of a shot of bourbon. The price of such things should match its cost to society. The money thus generated could be used to fund health care.

    If I want to eat a Twinkie, then I should have that right, but I should pay for it, too.

    I happen to feel basic medical care is a right, not a privilege. If you disagree with that basic premise, then we won’t find common ground. In fact, I think that’s where we need to start this discussion, as a society.

    You are looking in the wrong place, by the way, when arguing about illegal immigration. I spent 16 years working in the medical field in Mississippi, where there were very few illegal immigrants but a lot of uninsured who showed up in the one \charity hospital\ where I worked — basically, the only one in the state. The problem is much more complex than just illegal immigration. Mississippi has one of the lowest levels of managed care in the United States, and probably is one of the most politically conservative states in the US, with a long history of States’ Rights arguments put forth, and yet it has one of the worst fiscal crises and relies most heavily on financial assistance from the Federal Government. That doesn’t fit with your worldview, I’m afraid. I just don’t think your argument is fully supported by the evidence.

  14. laytonian says:

    Does anyone remember when Schwarzenegger was running for Governor, and his economic advisor was Warren Buffett?

    Buffett commented that the ONLY way out of the economic mess was to raise property taxes by throwing out Prop 13.

    Schwarzenegger refused to entertain that idea, even when Buffett stated that property taxes on his Omaha home were much more than on his California mansion.

    You live by the Proposition, you die by it, too.

  15. laytonian says:

    M.L. says “15% if I round it up to the nearest percentage point. And according to recent statistical data more than HALF of that 15% is made up of illegal immigrants.”

    M.L: what’s your source that HALF of the UNinsured population are illegal immigrants?

  16. ctrentelman says:

    I think ML is conflating data — the 40 million uninsured and the 10 million “illegal” immigrants, but that assumes all illegals don’t have insurance of some sort. If they’ve managed to work their way into the economy sufficiently to get a job at a place that has insurance coverage, they’re covered.

    As jim says, the problem is a lot bigger than simple stats — it ignores the contributions that those same immigrants make to the economy in labor done and wages saved by corporations which, in turn, keep costs down.

    Arnold had an op-ed piece in the LA Times today saying it would be easier to balance the budget if they got rid of waste and fraud — problem is, the only way to get rid of waste and fraud is to increase policing the programs, and that means spending more money on staff, which increases the bureaucracy and, as we’fe seen, bigger bureacracies are less efficient, not more so.

    I tend to agree with Buffett on Prop 13, but that cat is out of that bag and there’s no putting it back.

  17. laytonian says:

    Dear M.L.

    You say the POST OFFICE is an example of government inefficiency. That’s a talking point right out of the NeoCon handbook.

    Do you not understand the charter of the post office, versus the for-profit businesses which have skimmed off the profitable portions?

    How much does it cost you to send a birthday card or check cross-country via first class mail, written in your sloppy handwriting in blue ink on a dark red envelope? 45 cents?

    Next time you have to send that birthday card, why don’t you toddle down to UPS or FedEx and send it?

    UPS will charge you $20.45 (for their minimum one-pound rate) to send that letter to Massachusetts from Utah. That includes their “residential delivery surcharge”….which is MORE than the cost of that “inefficient” USPS postage stamp.

    I have shipped over 6,000 packages via the post office, and only two have had problems (one incidence of breakage was my own poor packing, and one “never showed up” according to the intended recipient, although the delivery confirmation showed it was delivered).

    I can ship up to 70 pounds (that’ll fit inside a flat-rate Priority Mail box) to ANY US Zip code. How much would UPS or FedEx charge for that? Don’t forget the extra fees.

    Maybe you don’t like standing in a line? The line is because twenty two old ladies go in once a week and stand there, to pick out “pretty” stamp. Or people go in with packages that are improperly addressed. Or how about the lady trying to send a package to her missionary son, with the package wrapped in colorful wrapping paper and the address written in ballpoint pen — and she wants to make sure that the stuck-on bow won’t get “damaged in shipment”.

    Go work at the Post Office, M.L. Really. Before you criticize the EXCELLENT service they provide, under government mandate to deliver that birthday card to the most out-of-the-way locations, even if it’s 120 miles roundtrip from the post office.

    Meanwhile, before you criticize “inefficiencies”, maybe you should start looking into what propaganda you’re spouting?

    No, I am NOT affiliated with USPS. But I have used them for years.

    You don’t want to hear the saga of the twice-lost UPS shipment full of life-saving medical drugs, do you?
    Or the UPS driver who wanted me to sign for a package that he had left on the porch of a neighbor up the street.

  18. Cathy says:

    It’s true, the USPS is still the best deal around, and the best service for the money. I have no complaints about our postal service – in fact I wish more of our government services were up their par.

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