Lots of things bother me about horror movies but one of the big things is the inability to warn the victims that a grisly fate awaits them just around the corner. There are times when at one time or another we have all wanted to stand up in the theatre and yell "don’t go in that creepy mansion you fool!"

In horror movies "ignorance is bliss" is a decidedly wrong idea. Ignorance leads to nasty encounters with characters like Freddie Chucky or Hannibal.

Equating ignorance with bliss is also a decidedly wrong idea when it comes to the California state budget. Yet a recent poll shows that ignorance of California’s precarious financial state is pervasive.

Here is an indisputable fact: California’s finances are a mess. More specifically the state budget remains grossly out of balance. Whether you ask fiscal conservatives or the Legislature’s own Analyst the answer — to one degree or another — is the same. We are spending far more money than we are taking in.

It is one thing to approach the edge of a cliff peer over the edge and then step back. But to hew unabated to a path that travels along the edge of that same cliff is foolhardy. And yet with our "please everyone" mentality in the Capitol that is precisely what is happening. Not only have we racked up massive amounts of debt saddling our children with the bill for this generation’s spendthrift ways we are also left with a choice of overspending by $1.5 billion (Governor’s plan) or $2.7 billion (Democrats’ plan) for fiscal 2007-2008. Please can we choose "None of the Above?"

But this column isn’t about the budget so much as it is about the abject lack of awareness by California voters of virtually all matters relating to public tax and spending policies. Sure these issues may not be as entertaining as American Idol but Paula Abdul is unlikely to run the state into bankruptcy.

The poll referred to above is the Public Policy Institute of California poll which showed a dramatic drop-off in the concern of voters in the state budget. As recently as 2004 73% of us thought that the state budget was a big problem. (The other 27% were the kind of folks who would pick up the grisly hitchhiker carrying the double-edged ax). Amazingly and despite all evidence to the contrary that 73% figure has dropped to 44%. Granted marijuana use in California is above the national norm but this is ridiculous.

When it comes to the budget the majority viewpoint now seems to be "don’t know" or "don’t care." Why are Californians so ignorant of an issue that could impact their lives for years? Certainly in addition to the fact that public finance is not the sexiest of topics many citizens are preoccupied with work and the struggle to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads for themselves and their families. And those who don’t work already have an entitlement mentality so they are probably all for more deficit spending. Who cares about the next generation?

Another culprit is our public education system. How many of our children are actually taught that the primary function of government is to preserve liberty? I would wager none in our public schools.

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was asked when he was leaving the Constitutional Convention in 1787 what kind of government had they created. His reply was "a Republic if you can keep it." Our form of government relies on a well-educated citizenry which not only stays informed on matters of governance but which also realizes that we have a profound responsibility to future generations.

Regrettably Californians are well down the path of losing their Republic.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.