Californians object to increasing taxes in order to pare the state’s massive budget deficit, and instead favor closing the breach through spending cuts. But they oppose cutsâ€”and even prefer more spendingâ€”on programs that make up 85% of the state’s general fund obligations, a new Los Angeles Times/USC Poll has found.
That paradox rests on Californians’ firm belief that the state’s deficitâ€”estimated last week at nearly $25 billion over the next 18 monthsâ€”can be squared through trimming waste and inefficiencies rather than cutting the programs they hold dear. Despite tens of billions that have been cut from the state budget in recent years, just a quarter of California voters believed that state services would have to be curtailed to close the deficit.
As is his wont, my friend and colleague Steve Bainbridge is not amused: “Can democracy work when people are idiots?,” he asks.Â “It’s no wonder Scientology is so big out here. Apparently Californians will believe anything, no matter how moronic.”
Very true.Â But there is a bigger problem here.Â The entire gravamen of Republican Party ideology since St. Ronald is that government is so shot through with “waste, fraud, and abuse” that we can cut it without any consequences.Â My UCLA colleague David Sears’ classic book on Proposition 13 carries with it an even more classic subtitle: “Something for Nothing in California.”
ThisÂ may beÂ true on Planet GOP, where tax cuts pay for themselves, where Saddam Hussein caused 9/11 and had weapons of mass destruction, where climate change is a hoax, where Barack Obama is a Marxist Muslim, where the federal government is taking over our Medicare, where progressives are derided for being too “reality-based,” where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.Â But it is not true on earth.
Republicans never meant it, of course: their hope was that they would “starve the beast” and attempt to redistribute income upward in order to turn the whole country into Mississippi, or maybe Venezuela.Â And now they find that the voters don’t want them to and they don’t know what to do.Â They have told the big lie for 30 years, but it’s hard now to say, “Oh, sorry folks: just kidding.”
As Steve is fond of saying, you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.Â It’s even worse if you are the dogs and fleas simultaneously.
Author: Jonathan Zasloff
Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees.
Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses.
Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.
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