Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The California Bidet

A recent Los Angeles Times editorial blasted Republican state legislators for their determined obstructionism and asserted the motive was simply to shrink the state government further to the benefit of their private sector buddies. While I think that's giving the GOP yahoos too much credit for having any sort of plan, I also have to admit the editorial contained a compelling argument, and the evidence they submit in support of that argument is strong.

California's Republican state senators claim they act the way they do -- blocking budget votes, demanding health and education cuts, opening tax loopholes for downtrodden classes such as yacht owners -- because they want to protect their constituents from overbearing and ineffective government. They're becoming progressively less believable, especially after GOP senators last month held more than 20 mostly worthy bills hostage in order to try killing a program that old-school Republicans would have championed.

The senators refused to vote on Democrats' bills in an effort to eliminate ReadyReturn, a service of the Franchise Tax Board. Instead of just combing tax returns for mistakes, the board came up with the program to actually help some taxpayers, Tax officials complete returns for simple filers -- those whose income is mostly from wages -- allowing them to just sign it and send it in (with a check). Filers, if they prefer, can still figure their taxes themselves.

So, here's a program that increases compliance with filing requirements, results in fewer errors in the returns, and brings in more tax dollars to the state. What's the GOP's beef?

...because in this case efficient and responsive government means fewer sales of TurboTax, software that helps filers prepare their tax returns and that, presumably, more Californians would buy if the Franchise Tax Board were as inefficient and messed up as so many other state programs. Intuit is the company that makes TurboTax, and perhaps you can guess what else it does: It gives lots of money to GOP lawmakers.

That lawmakers on either side of the aisle are susceptible to pressure from campaign donors comes as no surprise, but I think there is a little bit more at work here than that. I think the Republican minority in Sacramento have decided to follow the lead of their national counterparts and are using the tactic of just saying "NO" to any Democratic proposal, even those that clearly benefit the state. That way, nothing gets done just in time for the next election cycle, during which the very people who caused the gridlock will point to it as evidence that Democrats can't govern. If saying "NO" also benefits the business interests who are the GOP's real constituency, that's even better.

And the voters of some districts will nod their heads in agreement and return those same yahoos for another couple of years of obstructionism, assuming the state lasts that long.



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