Politics, in case you haven’t noticed the fact, has become rabidly partisan in recent years. It’s not that we haven’t had ideological divides in the past, because there are always multiple points of view about what’s best for the country, but these days the positions have hardened to the point where compromises are not even on the table for discussion. Our political system, which by its very nature encourages two (and only two) political parties, has historically yielded an incremental approach to change. Big issues like women’s suffrage, slavery, the rights of minorities, and oversight of economic injustices have been slow to be addressed, with change coming in fits and starts, even in the face of public sentiment. Indeed, for a nation that was founded on once radical premises, like representative democracy. checks and balances and a bill of rights, our political machinery seems to have been designed to move at a snail’s pace.
Here in California, the annual battle of the state budget has come to symbolize the inherent limitations of a government bound by its own processes to accomplish little of significance. In the face of a recession bordering on depression that has adversely impacted millions of residents, California’s safety nets have withered. The state’s ability to maintain even basic functions (like driver’s licenses and highway safety) has been overwhelmed by a system of taxation dependent on ever-increasing economic activity by the same classes of people who have been most severely impacted by the economy’s downturn. It’s a taxation tsunami: the poorer the people get, the less revenue the State has. “Trickle down” has been exposed for exactly what it is: the poor getting pissed on by the rich as each year’s budget negotiations are more about cutting services than effective governance.
So along comes Proposition 25, which asks the voters to allow the legislature to pass the State budget by a simple majority, rather than the 2/3’s vote that is currently required. Its opponents maintain that this initiative is a smokescreen, claiming in ballot arguments that: “The hidden agenda in Proposition 25 makes it easier for politicians to raise taxes, spend money we don’t have and incur more debt.” It goes on to talk about “politicians” and “lavish expense accounts”, pandering to the same fears that the right always uses when trying to position themselves as outsiders.
A bit closer to the real truth of the matter was the reaction of the predictably republican San Gabriel Valley Tribune in its editorial opposing Proposition 25: “The current inevitable delays are costly in so many ways. But we fear the tyranny of a slight majority in the Legislature.” Ah, that old tyranny of the slight majority. There is no mention of the “tyranny” of the slight minority that blocks progress at any price and refuses to even discuss compromise.
Ultimately this is being portrayed as a typical partisan issue, with Democrats and unions lined up on one side and Republicans and Chambers of Commerce on the other. The opposition is up to its usual tricks, hoping to stoke fears of massive deficits and liberals running amok through the street of Sacramento.
Currently the Legislature is dominated by the Dems. There’s a middlin’ chance that the next Governator will also be a Dem, provided that the Pro Proposition 19 supporters turn out in sufficient numbers. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Surveys by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggest California voters under 30 years old are more likely to vote this year than their counterparts in other states. People in that age group make up 11% of California voters likely to turn out in November—compared with 8% of the likely electorate or less in Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Michigan, all of which have competitive statewide elections. In the last midterms, in 2006, voters under 30 were 6.5% of the California electorate, according to data compiled for the non-partisan Field Poll.
So does this mean that the “Democratic agenda” will dominate California’s budgeting process in years to come? I don’t think so.
First, Proposition 25 doesn’t address the revenue side of the budget equation, despite opponents claim to the contrary. It will still take a 2/3 vote to pass tax increases. So the days of milk and honey are going to be tempered by the reality of its taxation system.
Secondly, anybody who thinks Democrats can achieve enough unity to actually enact a serious agenda hasn’t actually ever worked with them. There are lots of flavors of Democrats these days. It’s like herding cats, as followers of the progressive agenda who watch the US Congress can easily attest.
So what will the actual effects of Proposition 25 be? It’s likely that the GOP (or minority party) will still hold the key to passing budgets. But the more extreme members of that party are unlikely learn the art of compromise, so this puts the onus the few “moderates” remaining in the party to work with the “conservative” elements in the Democratic Party.
I’ll vote for Proposition 25 because it’s the right thing to do. I just don’t expect things are going to change much because of its passage.