I lived in Southern California, Claremont by Pomona to be specific, for about ten years. Being in Grad School, it never felt quite like home. But my children were born there, and I think that entitles me to style myself an expatriate.
So there is a little bit of sadness mixed in with schadenfreude, as I contemplate the wreck that California has become. The state now faces a $21 billion deficit, which used to sound like a lot before Barack Obama was elected President. For California it is a lot because, unlike Barack, Arnold can't print money to fill up fiscal canyons.
So Arnold tried a second time to fix California by a series of budget initiatives, submitted to the voters. This in itself is a sign of political dysfunction. California has a state legislature, and it is the job of state legislatures to balance budgets and on occasion reform the institutions of government. But California also has a very strong initiative process, by which interested parties can place legislation on the ballot for the people to enact or reject. The best thing I have read on this comes from Bill Maher.
It's not Arnold's fault that California has a worse credit rating than Louisiana, a state that's half underwater and half in the bag. You see, our state is designed to be ungovernable because we govern by ballot initiative, and we only write two kinds of them: "Spend money on things I like" and "Don't raise my taxes." More money for teachers and firefighters? Check "yes"! High-speed rail? "Cooool!" Drug treatment for former child actors? "Sure, why not?" But don't even think of taxing me for any of it.
When this sort of thing goes on for long enough, it wraps the legislature up in a straight jacket: it can neither cut spending (too many popularly ratified constitutional amendments for that), nor raise revenues (remember Prop. 13?) And of course, every great and expensive program, and every tax cut, has partisans in the legislature as well.
So Governor Schwarzenegger had no other option but to go to the very voters who helped create the problem and ask them to help him fix it. They didn't say no. They said "Hell no." All of the initiatives that included tax increases went down to defeat on Tuesday. The one initiative that passed bars an increase in salaries for public officials while the state budget is in deficit. That probably means no raises for the entire state bureaucracy until the year 3000. I wonder how that will work out.
The Governor is about to be forced to cut everything he can legally cut, no matter what the human cost. He is also going to ask the Federal Government to guarantee loans to California to keep it afloat. Well, that just puts the Golden State in the same position as Chrysler.
President Obama likes to talk about responsible government. But there is this story from the LA Times:
The Obama administration is threatening to rescind billions of dollars in federal stimulus money if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers do not restore wage cuts to unionized home healthcare workers approved in February as part of the budget.
Houston, we have a problem.