Hardly Brave

Over at FireDogLake, former Calitics blogger and current slayer of falacies David Dayen, takes on the California budget.  Specifically, he calls out Brown’s budget for a lack of bravery, in the face of a growing chorus of “responsible” voices in the news praising Brown’s actions.  Sure, he’s making cuts that Democrats wouldn’t ordinarily make, but that’s just buying the Republican frame.  Is he getting to the deeper points?

But Brown has ducked many more fundamental governance issues in the state. He hasn’t gone near a tax structure where people making $47,500 a year pay the same in income taxes as those making $999,999. He won’t approach the third rail of California politics, the artificially low property taxes resulting from Prop 13. He won’t expand the sales tax to cover services, which would allow the rate to be lowered while still gaining more revenue (and becoming more progressive, as higher-end services get used by wealthier people). He’s basically doing the bare minimum possible on revenue generation, and even then he won’t commit to raising them himself, preferring to put them up for a vote of the people.

As for the spending cuts, they will be utterly devastating; California already cut the less necessary stuff in prior years of the crisis. And by and large, Democrats in the legislature are going along with it. In the Schwarzenegger years, you’d have a lot of resistance to very similar cuts, both from the outside and the inside. These days, state Democrats don’t want to cross their own governor, and so they’re basically carrying out his wishes. They tell everyone they don’t feel good about it, but that’s of little solace. (FDL)

Redevelopment has been getting much of the attention, but the heart of the cuts is to the social safety net that the Democrats have been working to protect from Governor Schwarzenegger’s raids.  Yet now we are making many of these same cuts.  Meanwhile a full 20% of California families are struggling to even afford enough food:

One in five Californians struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families last year, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center.

The rate in California was slightly higher than the national average of 18%.

Jim Weill, president of the Washington-based nonprofit, said the figures underscore the need for a strong nutrition safety net – including food stamps and school meals – for families that continue to struggle as the economy begins to recover.

“While the nation’s Great Recession may have technically ended in mid-2009, it has not yet ended for many of the nation’s households,” Weill said in a statement Thursday. “For them, 2010 was the third year of a terrible recession that is widely damaging the ability to meet basic needs.”(LAT)

At a time when Californians need more help than ever, we’re closing down our doors and spending a smaller percentage of the state’s personal income for over 40 years. Yeah, that’s right, Brown’s proposed budget would spend just $5.05 per $100 earned, the lowest such figure since Reagan’s 1972-73 budget.  Put simply, we don’t have an out of control tax system, we don’t have a spending problem, we have an obstinate minority that insists on a selfishness of spirit that California hasn’t known before.

I give Brown credit for doing what he thinks he must, perhaps in the only way he thinks possible.  But we’re losing part of what made us great.  There was once a feeling that anything could happen in California, that whatever we worked together toward would be accomplished.  We built an outstanding K-12 education system and the greatest public university system in the world.  We built the information based economy.  We built a network of infrastructure that made tomorrow look better than yesterday.

Today, we are just trying to survive for ourselves. Some of us can’t feed ourselves, while others are grabbing crass and obscene wealth.  Is this really the best we can do?

11 thoughts on “Hardly Brave”

  1. I understand what you are saying and yes the cuts will be horrible but what do you think JB can do?  The Republicans are not budging on the taxes and the electorate will probably not support them even if they were put on the ballot.  People in California, for numerous reasons, just will not vote for more taxes.  Prop 13 still enjoys popularity and there is no appetite to expand the sales taxes to services.  His hands are tied and the clock is ticking.  

    I will be very interested to see what the actual cuts will look like once the tax increase idea is dead.

  2. “But we’re losing part of what made us great…. We built an outstanding K-12 education system and the greatest public university system in the world. We built the information-based economy.”

    Brown should know this, because his father was instrumental in building that public university system. He saw it rise. And lived through the results. But the younger Brown has been famously parsimonious his whole life. So it’s hardly surprising he’s looking for cuts first. He’s also not noted for being a great listener. But the people of California need to make sure he hears that we want revenue increases and not some of the draconian cuts he’s proposed.

    As for Diego’s assertion that Californians won’t vote for tax increases, Robert has pointed out exceptions to this “conventional wisdom” and Jarvis Foundation talking point many times. I worked on a bond issue in San Jose just last year that passed. It happens all over the state all the time. If people see the need, and the measure is well designed, the likelihood it will pass is actually fairly high.

  3. There’s no “bravery” in hurting other people.  It’s an abdication of responsibility for leaders, such as Gov. Brown, to throw up their hands and say Californians won’t support taxing the wealthy, reforming Prop. 13, etc.  Leaders need to lead.  They need to educate and persuade.  It’s incredibly disappointing to see that my own Democratic legislators* have no public profile whatsoever on budget issues, preferring to take on only small bore issues. This is a crisis.  Why aren’t they out there explaining why it’s not only cruel but penny-wise and pound-foolish to take away in home services that keep people out of the hospital?  Why aren’t they explaining how commercial properties get a giant windfall from Prop. 13?

    * Leland Yee and Fiona Ma.  Nothing on their websites about the budget crisis.  Yee admirably criticizes the nomination of David Crane, but says nothing about budget issues.  

  4. Brown’s budget + election plan reflect a heartbreaking lack of vision, as you & Dayen note. To think, the solution to California’s problems is just to re-do Feb/May 2009’s budget? No way.

    These revenue “solutions” were the easy way out, not trying to create anything new, not using the moment to make the case for real, new sources of revenue, or arguing for a real restructuring. (This realignment doesn’t solve anything.)

    I am with you in sharing the fear of what happens when, not if, the special election measure(s) fail and we’re back where we are today.  

  5. It’s true that we are cutting severely

    But, it HAS to be done

    The Democratic Legislature wasn’t cutting the fat before

    Now, Brown has too

    If one in five is hungry, why are we still paying ex-legislaters like Carole Migden to sit on do nothing boards?

    and paying big bucks

    Why are we still funding stadiums for fat cat sports club owners ?

    Plenty of fat to cut

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