The captain just announced that turbulence is expected ahead. I really hoped that things would make sense up here. Things should make sense up here. Gazing down on those neat identical blocks in that poorest part of Los Angeles, though, brings to mind more questions than answers. How will California be different when I return? Will I recognize this place? The new California budget was passed two weeks ago, and since then I have yet to feel the cuts. The apocalyptic changes that the California budget cuts will cause are not yet palpable in reality; they have yet to wreak havoc beyond headlines, evening news and nervous gossip. The sun still rises… for now.
More destructive (but no less familiar) than wildfires, California’s budget storm is man-made. This budget crisis is brought to you by the same people who kicked out Governor Gray Davis for his deficit in 2003: Republican state legislators. I understand that it’s no picnic to close a $26 billion budget and that no one party or politician is responsible for the (fetal) position that the state currently assumes. But the response to this fiscal emergency was misplaced, irresponsible and piecemeal. Medi-Cal, the state’s health care program for the poor, lost $1.3 billion. The UCs and Cal State schools lost $3 billion. The middle class and students should not be treated as expendable commodities but as crucial investments, for they are the key to a thriving economy. These cuts will cripple California’s future economic growth when the state must care for residents who became diabetic while their health services were cut or the oil spill that occurred because of expanded offshore drilling. Again faced with a budget imbalance, legislators have pursued temporary measures instead of long-term solutions. Looking forward to inevitable future California budget crises, we must approach the budget holistically, with a long-term outlook.
But alas, now I’m far away from that, somewhere over South Dakota, a Republican state that a liberal like me hopes to only see from the height and airtight chamber that a Boeing 757 can offer. Its political shortcomings aside, South Dakota has weathered the storm during this time of recession. In fact it is seeing moderate expansion because of a balanced tax code that is less vulnerable to market trends than that of California. South Dakota collects zero personal income tax. In most states, tax revenues are split evenly between property, sales and income tax or between property and sales. California, however, collects 55 percent of its tax revenues from personal income. California’s 8.25 percent sales tax is also disproportionately high. California’s excessive reliance on income and sales tax creates dangerous boom-bust cycles. Sales tax must be lowered to promote spending.
These bipartisan recommendations, of course, are to avoid future budget crises; it’s too late for this one. Not that Schwarzenegger would be interested in adopting them anyway. He’ll be on his private plane going back East next week. The pilot will announce that turbulence is expected but Schwarzenegger won’t be listening. He’ll grin and chomp on an oversized cigar. He’ll gaze down at the same bankrupt farms and dilapidated schools as I did, but he will see no sign of ruin. He loves budget crises; they got him this great job and allowed him to make all those wonderful spending cuts. As the Governator pulls away from the window to close his eyes, maybe he’ll wonder what action hero will star in the next chapter of the California Budget Crisis.