Today’s George Skelton column offers a classic example of how right-wing framing of the budget crisis works its way into common discourse through the media:
I don’t have to be so diplomatic. I’ll just say that there’s no way these people can produce an honest budget that forces Sacramento “to live within its means,” as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger persistently preaches, while consistently being one of the first to sin.
The “live within its means” quote is the problem, and it’s no accident Arnold Schwarzenegger frequently employs it. It suggests that government can only spend what it takes in – if tax receipts collapse by over 40% as they have since 2007, we have to cut spending by over 40% to match. It also suggests that we have been living beyond our means – overspending, having too many government programs – before the crisis, which is just not so. California never really recovered from the cuts of the 2002-03 era, and the spending increases since were either to pay for Arnold’s vehicle license fee cut or to keep up with a growing and aging population.
The better, and more accurate, frame is that California needs enough resources to meet the needs of its people. Especially in a severe recession such as this. We need to expand, not contract, educational services. We need to guarantee everyone has the health care services they need, not take it away from those who need it. We need to reorient our economy, land use, and transportation systems away from the failed models of the 20th century and toward a more sustainable and prosperous 21st century model as a way to create the jobs that are desperately needed,
California has more than enough resources to do this. We have a lot of wealth sitting off the table in the form of high-end property values, corporate property value, corporate profits, and rents. If we framed the budget crisis as a matter of getting those resources into play in order to meet the needs of our people, than the structural problems Skelton does describe, including the lack of majority vote, become seen as obstacles to progress rather than guardians of the people against a rapacious state government.
Until we have gotten our framing straight, we’re going to have a hard time solving this crisis. Especially if the media continues to play along with the right-wing’s arguments.