Today’s San Diego Union-Tribune has a long article on the failure of Proposition A, a $52 parcel tax for all of San Diego County that would have funded a regional fire authority and help provide badly needed additional resources at local fire departments. Interestingly, it was the most fire-prone areas of San Diego County – towns like Ramona, which nearly burned down in the 2003 fire – that turned in the strongest No votes. Why would they vote against protecting their own property?
“I think the people don’t believe the government,” said Peter Jorgenson, a Ramona resident who voted for the tax. “They don’t believe that they’re actually going to do anything with the money.”…
It did not win the support of Mary Eaker, 59, a clerk at a Circle K in Ramona.
“With the economy so bad, everybody’s voting against anything with taxes,” Eaker said. “Nobody wants more taxes. Forget it.”
The article describes many other possible reasons for Prop A’s failure, including poor leadership from San Diego County Supervisors, but the distrust of government does seem to be at the core of the problem.
Of course, this isn’t just some random development. Conservatives have had as a primary focus creating and capitalizing on distrust of government. Conservative politicians, activists, and editorial pages like those at the U-T (which did endorse Prop A) have frequently accused government of being wasteful and reckless with tax money as a way to ensure voters never do support a tax increase. They cried wolf so often that when the wolf finally appeared in the form of a catastrophic firestorm, the good people of San Diego County did what they had been trained to do – be skeptical of government and vote against a tax for services they desperately need.
It dates back to 1978:
Proposition 13 reduced property tax revenue to governments throughout California, leaving fire districts with revenue shortfalls as high as 80 percent.
It’s not likely we’ll ever see a conservative question Prop 13. But as we saw last year conservative criticism has extended to fire departments themselves. Firefighters in Orange County were frequent targets of right-wing criticism, with the OC Register accusing them of being wasteful and taxpayers as being “weak” for giving fire departments more money.
One of the primary reasons for California’s ongoing budget crisis is because conservatives have successfully created and exploited this distrust of government. If we’re going to solve the fire crisis or the budget crisis, we need to restore public trust in government.
Showing Californians the consequences of conservative policies is a good way to do that. Just as conservative anti-government policies left New Orleans vulnerable to a hurricane and left the city’s residents stranded when that hurricane finally arrived, so too has conservative policy and framing left Californians vulnerable to a similar disaster.