Tuesday, June 16, 2009

State Oddity

I caught a little of the California Report's interview with the Gubernator on KQED radio this morning. The whole California budget situation has an air of the surreal. Arnold has assumed the strange hybrid persona of a scolding schoolmarm mixed with budget deficit Terminator, and the act has really gotten tedious. Of course there's a lot of posturing, but serious cuts will occur, and it is bizarre to be living in one of the richest and most successful economies in human history and contemplate the shutting down of the state park system, or the gutting of health insurance for poor kids, or the gradual deconstruction of the world's greatest public system of higher education.

Everyone can easily point to their favorite culprits. The housing meltdown and recession are big proximate contributors, for sure, but the budget problem is structural. California's extremely rigid 2/3 majority requirement for both tax increases and budget passage is clearly an obstacle to a reasonable solution, particularly in the context of political polarization. The more polarized the legislature, the more extreme the views as you move away from the median legislator, and we now see what happens when the wacky right-most 1/3 hold veto power over the whole budget process. Even Arnold, nominally a Republican, has given up on these idiots and devotes his energies to badgering the Dems.

A new state constitution could offer a way out in the long haul, and I'm sympathetic to holding a convention. But in the land of Prop 13 you do have to be careful what you wish for. An alternative would be measures to depolarize the legislature. Even left-wing Democrats, who would personally be losers in a system that favored more centrist politicians, ought to be willing to make the sacrifice if the ideological cutoff at the 2/3 majority could be moved leftward toward the center. It's hard to imagine much real progress under the current rules until this happens. The new commission-based redistricting scheme provides some hope here, but it will take a long time before the impact is felt.

Bottom line in the short run: Please, please, please, Barack, help us out! Or perhaps a more Terminator-like threat is in order: Barack, don't turn us away, we can pull the rest of you back down with us!

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