I worked in the polls on Tuesday, during the special election asking California voters to approve an enormously complicated and controversial set of measures aimed at averting fiscal catastrophe. All but one failed, by nearly two-to-one. The one that passed (by three-to-one) limits lawmakers’ raises.
The election itself was a bit of a farce. Turnout was extremely low, just over 20 percent according to early reports. It took three hours for us to collect our first 10 votes at the precinct I worked at. The election itself cost between $60 and $100 million, just increasing the deficit that much more and annoying an already grumpy public.
Now, rumor has it that the school year will be cut short, social services of all kinds will be cut, prisoners will be released early, and public officials’ salaries will be slashed. Environmental agencies will be hit hard, I have a feeling.
It’s a collosal mess, and no one seems to have a clue what to do about it.
For what it’s worth, I lay a fair fraction of the blame at the feet of the late Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, who capitalized on voter anger 40-plus years ago with Proposition 13, which rolled property taxes way back and limited the speed with which they can be raised. This immediately crippled the public schools, a blow from which they’ve never recovered. Our brilliant legislators can’t seem to come up with anything more creative than selling lottery tickets and raking in a hefty tax. The governor even suggested that maybe it’s time to legalize marijuana and tax the bejeezus out of that, too.
I’d also apportion considerable blame to small-government gurus Grover Norquist and Karl Rove and their ilk, who have helped make tax a four-letter word. I don’t like stupid programs or wasteful spending any more than anyone else, but we need most of the things our taxes pay for: police, firefighters, pothole-fillers, produce inspectors, and on and on. In fact, I’m of the opinion that our taxes should rise so the healthcare system can be fixed and the insurance middlemen put out to pasture, but that’s a story for another day.
For the time being, call off the special elections, the complicated initiatives. Someone needs to be brave enough to stand up and say publicly that taxes can be good for you, for your government and for the earth.