As taxpayers are bombarded daily with bad budget news they are fastening their seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Sacramento admits to a $14 billion deficit over the next 18 months and even this may turn out to be a conservative estimate. And right on cue the tax and spend lobby has increased the pitch of its whining for higher taxes.
But there is an additional element to this budget talk that is deeply disturbing. Some are suggesting that the very leaders upon whom we rely not to raise taxes may be setting us up for a hard fall. Let’s look at some of the evidence.
In his State of the State address the Governor ostensibly staked out a conservative position: No tax increases and across the board 10 percent spending cuts for all departments. Of course his no tax increase position is belied by his calling for a variety of higher "fees" that are clearly taxes — chief among which is a brand new tax on our property insurance bills.
But despite the relatively small tax increases ("only" $125 million in new revenue for the insurance tax) the primary tool the governor states he will use to balance the budget will be the spending cuts.
The problem with this plan is that surprisingly no distinction will be made between good cuts and bad cuts. Good programs bad programs stupid programs — all will suffer the same fate. This is the equivalent of taking out a cancerous tumor with a hand grenade.
For conservatives it is stunningly irresponsible to propose releasing over 20000 felons because of the budget crisis. Public safety is government’s first responsibility.
It has been suggested by more than one political insider that the Governor’s entire approach is to set up Californians for a major tax increase. By including popular and needed government programs on the chopping block is the Governor trying to deflect the wrath of the citizenry to conservative Republicans?
If that is true fiscally responsible policy leaders ought to counter with an aggressive counterstrategy. For every popular spending program that the tax and spend lobby claims will be cut with tax increases conservatives must point to specific examples of waste fraud and abuse that should be addressed before we should be talking about further burdens on taxpayers.
And we need to respectfully suggest to the Governor that he dust off his "blowing up the boxes" speech. Indeed in his first year in office Schwarzenegger launched a long needed top to bottom review of state government called the California Performance Review. This project was one of the truly "fantastic" things Arnold pursued once elected. Unfortunately it was inexplicably dropped just as it was gaining traction.
The whole strategy of threatening popular programs with major cuts — as opposed to cutting wasteful spending — is referred to as the Washington Monument Syndrome. We’ve talked about this phenomenon for years but it seems that the phrase is now on everyone’s lips in Sacramento. That’s a good thing because it acknowledges the level of gamesmanship being played here.
So when the tax and spend lobby proposes releasing 20000 prisoners taxpayers should demand that the billions in MediCal fraud be addressed first. Or if we want to keep the issue within the corrections department perhaps we should privatize our prisons to save money. Sure the prison guards union (CCPOA) will pitch a hissy fit but hey what is more important — keeping dangerous felons behind bars or placating a spoiled public employee union?
When the powerful education lobby demands that we not suspend Prop 98 perhaps we point out some of the absurd things our education tax dollars go to support. Why for example in the midst of a budget crisis should we pay tuition for undocumented students? Or better yet the LAUSD — dominated of course by the teachers unions — just granted lifetime health benefits to retirees taking hundreds of millions of dollars out of the classroom. If we are that concerned about the kids perhaps we should rethink those kinds of benefits which by the way very few other states have.
You get the idea. The bottom line is that taxpayers will be set up only if they allow themselves to be set up. It is time to fight back.
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.