A Sun Setting in the West

I know many of you disagreed with what I wrote in the “California’s Dreaming” post, but I think the larger point — that California voters created the mess that is the California government themselves, and they have to be the ones to straighten it out — still stands. And it’s clear that the first priority has got to be rescinding Proposition 13.

Steven Taylor at Poliblog has a good analysis of How Proposition 13 Screwed Up California. Californians may have felt their property taxes were out of control before, but the solutions they created through Porposition 13 have had a number of unintended — although not unpredictable — consequences that have created worse problems.

And you must read “The Ungovernable State” in The Economist. No other state has taken “direct democracy” through initiative and referendum as far as California has. Other states that allow I & R have limits on the system, including allowing legislators to modify or even override referenda the voters have passed. But not California. Through “direct democracy,” California has tied itself into knots. It may need to completely overhaul its constitution before anything can get done.

At the Washington Post, New Gingrich celebrates California’s recent election results as a “repudiation of the California establishment” and “a harbinger of things to come.”

This vote is the second great signal that the American people are getting fed up with corrupt politicians, arrogant bureaucrats, greedy interests and incompetent, destructive government.

But the “greedy interests” mostly do their work though manipulation of the I&R system, and California’s main problem is not that government is “too big,” but that it is too hamstrung. “The states with huge government machines have basically moved beyond the control of the people,” Gingrich writes. But one can argue the government of California is controlled — well, jerked around by — voters more than that of any other state. That’s the problem.

Gingrich is, as usual, a font of not-even-half-baked ideas that add up to less than nothing. As Harold Meyerson says today, Gingrich’s “biggest idea was to close down the federal government to force Bill Clinton to slash Medicare payments.”

But getting back to California — the state has to change its way of governing itself. There’s no getting around that. Will Californians do this?

California’s Dreaming

I can’t say I have a first-hand feel for what’s going on in California, since I live on the opposite edge of the country, but here’s the story:

Yesterday California voters defeated ballot proposals to deal with the state’s financial problems. These included a spending cap, extending tax increases, borrowing against lottery revenues and tapping dedicated funds.

I take it California voters want to hear some better proposals for dealing with their $21.3 billion budget deficit — something along the lines of mugging the Tooth Fairy.

Jim Christie writes for Reuters:

“The public is under the delusion that they can have everything — have potholes filled, new freeways, a good education system — but they aren’t willing to pay for it … A lot of critical services are going to be cut and there will be serious consequences,” said Jim Hawley of the Elfenworks Center for the Study of Fiduciary Capitalism at St. Mary’s College of California.

There is talk of California getting a cash bailout, along the lines of what’s been thrown at Wall Street. I’m inclined to say no. If the citizens of California are not willing to tax themselves to save their own state, I think they should live with the consequences. This is not like a business failure, in which the bad decisions of a few executives cause a ripple effect of more failure that impacts many blameless people.

Juliet Williams writes for the Associated Press:

Political observers say Schwarzenegger and lawmakers will have little choice but to go after even politically sacred programs such as schools. …

… The choices facing the governor and Legislature are daunting,” said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. … Many Californians have been hearing about the state’s budget problems but have yet to feel the severity of the crisis. That will soon change, Pitney said.

“For a lot of people, the budget’s been an abstraction. But with the next round, there will probably be serious consequences, particularly in the schools,” Pitney said.

Last week, the governor said he will consider shortening the school year by seven days, laying off up to 5,000 state employees and taking money from local governments, which likely would translate into cuts to police and firefighting services.

Only 19 percent of California’s voters bothered to vote, Williams says.

Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times that voters share the blame for the California’s dysfunction.

Nearly a century after the Progressive-era birth of the state’s ballot-measure system, it is clear that voters’ fickle commands, one proposition at a time, are a top contributor to paralysis in Sacramento. And that, in turn, has helped cripple the capacity of the governor and Legislature to provide effective leadership to a state of more than 38 million people.

Clogged freeways, the decline of public schools, an outdated water system and a battered economy are just a few of the challenges demanding action by state leaders. Instead, they are consumed by yet another budget crisis, one that voters worsened Tuesday.

“No one’s really stepping back and confronting the harsh realities that face our state in a critical sense, because of constraints put on our elected leaders,” said Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California. “We’re unable to focus on the long term and the big picture at a time when we desperately need to do so.”

Finnegan’s analysis is very good; I recommend reading all of it.

It’s worth remembering that the Reagan Revolution effectively began in California with the passage of the infamous Proposition 13, which capped property tax rates. Once upon a time California was considered one of the best-run states in the nation, and with the best public school system. In the 1960s California’s schools were ranked first in the nation. Now they are ranked at number 48. Way to go, California.

Update: Via John ColeMegan McArdle writes,

There is a surprisingly sizeable blogger contingent arguing that we have to bail them out because however regrettable the events that lead here, we now have no choice. But actually, we do have a choice: we could let them go bankrupt. And we probably should.

I am not under the illusion that this will be fun. For starters, the rest of you sitting smugly out there in your snug homes, preparing to enjoy the spectacle, should prepare to enjoy the higher taxes you’re going to pay as a result. Your states and municipalities will pay higher interest on their bonds if California is allowed to default. Also, the default is going to result in a great deal of personal misery, more than a little of which is going to end up on the books of Federal unemployment insurance and other such programs.

But on the other hand, Megan argues, if we bail out California, it would amount to shoveling money into a bottomless pit, and ultimately we’re not helping California by enabling the “lunatics in Sacramento.” But in California’s case one can’t just blame Sacramento. California voters and the referendum system have made the state ungovernable. And I’d like to point out that many other states allow referendums without being as irresponsible as California has been.

Update: Rightie bloggers are rejoicing this outcome and see it as validation of conservatism. Just wait until the 2010 midterms! Allahpundit laments that voters “love their government goodies even though they manifestly can’t afford them.”

“Government goodies,” of course, are things like decent public schools, a criminal justice system, firefighters, bridges that don’t fall down, etc. America used to be able to afford those things. “Used to,” as in “before Reaganism.”