Christopher Caldwell: California’s fiscal charade

Financial Times:

Monday’s agreement between Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, and state legislators seemed to promise a temporary resolution to an ongoing budget crisis. But before legislators had even had a chance to vote on it, Californians were indulging in that peculiar mix of sanctimony and surrealism which marks almost all political discourse in the state. “What about the children?” ran the headline over the letters section of the San Francisco Chronicle, as if the important divide in the state’s politics were between those who “care” and those who do not.

Caring has nothing to do with it. California’s problems are those of “direct democracy”. The state’s laws are shaped by plebiscites to a degree unmatched outside of Venezuela. In voting on “propositions”, which sometimes touch on detailed budgetary matters, citizens of the Golden State have stood up consistently for two principles: the state should provide vastly more services to its citizens, and citizens should pay vastly less to the state. In 1978, Proposition 13 halved government’s take from property taxes; a decade later, Proposition 98 required the state to spend 40 per cent of its “general fund” on schools. Adding to the problem is the requirement of supermajorities for raising taxes.

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