Friday, June 12, 2009

Perfect analysis of the California budget disaster

The Root is out with an analysis of the California budget catastrophe and it is spot on. Hat tip to Digby for highlighting the article -- and trimming it in helpful ways. The money graphs:

In 1978, California's voters approved Proposition 13, which changed the state constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the state legislature to raise taxes. Meanwhile, the state's progressive constitution allows voters to impose spending requirements on the legislature, borrow money or amend the constitution by a simple majority vote.

Voters everywhere want low taxes and generous government benefits. In most government systems, they elect legislators who try to balance these imperatives. But only in California can voters both give themselves tax cuts and require the state legislature to spend more money on their chosen programs. Well-meaning initiatives have taken large chunks of the budget out of the legislature's control and have saddled the state with heavy interest payments on endless bonds used to pay for infrastructure such as new schools and earthquake retrofitting for public buildings. These sound nice when described in one sentence on a ballot, but funding them through debt is unnecessarily expensive and limits the legislature's options, short-changing less sexy programs such as services for the poor. [Full article here.]

Yep, that is it exactly. Through 3 decades of hodgepodge state ballot initiatives Californians have made it almost impossible to increase revenue -- but it remains fairly easy to increase spending and debt obligation. No wonder the system is ALWAYS in crisis.

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