As the battle to decide California’s budget finally comes to a close, many are recovering from the shell shock and trying to figure out exactly what just happened.
Although the eventual result seems like a logical conclusion to the clusterfuck that was this year’s budget debate, the state’s spending plan leaves much to be desired.
The new budget makes up for the state’s record deficit through a mix of cuts and taxes, with some additional, much-needed funding coming from the federal government.
But this settlement, reached more than eight months after the constitutional deadline — though this date is a joke and has only been reached four times in the past 32 years — doesn’t tell the whole story of what led up to it.
This is the story of an opposition party prolonging the process, making whiny demands, while clinging to old and archaic economic theories that have long since lost their credibility.
Now, thanks to $15.1 billion in cuts and $12.8 billion in new taxes, we’ve avoided financial disaster, but only for a few months. And these cuts, including a 4 percent reduction in welfare and a 2.3 percent cut to aid for the blind and disabled, afflict the afflicted more than we can stomach.
Throughout the process, Republican leaders referred to the state’s stalemate as a battle of ideology. Democrats on the left blamed a “revenue problem,” saying the state needed increased income. Republicans on the right blamed a “spending problem” and demanded stricter limits on wasteful spending.
Well, the right has gotten its way.
Hundreds of millions of dollars intended for transportation were slashed, thanks to a blocked tax on gasoline. A one-cent increase in sales tax (a regressive tax that always takes a larger chunk from the poor), replaced an income tax on the wealthy. The UC and CSU systems will be facing cuts in the hundreds of millions.
Apparently transportation and education qualify as “spending problems.” Though many say that a tax hike in shaky economic times can be problematic, most fail to acknowledge the effect that develops without it.
Decreased public transportation services, suspended cost-of-living increases for Medicare and Medicaid, lower welfare payments, and a suspension of the state’s safety net for those who really need it, all amount to a de facto tax on the poor.
The Republicans, who command barely a third of California’s elected legislature, have been exploiting an outdated and unfair system, hijacking our budget process to extract cheap political points.
They conduct shrewd deals and make grand statements, not considering the human costs of missed payments to schools, laid-off workers, and other detrimental effects that resulted from the missed budget.
The debate about state services — what the government has a mandate to provide, and to what extent — is an important discussion that should continue in the face of changing times. This is not that debate; this is extortion.
The Republicans — sad, tired bureaucrats who are out of touch with the realities of their downtrodden constituencies — have let their ideologies run wild, taking the state for a ride it cannot handle. The Republican leadership preyed upon the state in its time of need and, when the situation became even worse, they twisted the situation to further their own political ends.
This is why people hate politicians.
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