Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cheap Shots

Yes, California's budget woes continue. Next year a nearly $21 billion shortfall is expected and the Governator has already demanded more money from the feds or he's going to reduce or even eliminate public services including In Home Health Services and California WORKS. He took his demands directly to Washington, meeting with the state's delegations and appearing on a few Sunday morning talk shows. It was what he said during one of those television appearances that really set off the "center-left" editorial board of the Los Angeles Times.

It's probably true, as Schwarzenegger said Sunday on "State of the Union" on CNN, that California pays "approximately a billion dollars for the incarceration of undocumented immigrants" and gets only $100 million in return. The federal government does indeed have an obligation to reimburse the state for part of the cost of the failure to adequately control the nation's borders, and the governor is right to seek every bit of revenue and reimbursement due to the state, to decrease the damage caused by inevitable cuts.

But illegal immigration didn't get California into its budget fix, and full federal payment -- an unlikely prospect -- wouldn't get us out. Playing to the anti-immigrant chorus, even in a quest for federal money, undermines the message every Californian must hear: We cannot currently pay for those programs that we consistently list as our top priorities, including first-rate education, transportation and public safety, and it's not because of the size of the undocumented population. It's because of our appetite for services, the structure of our tax system and the dysfunction of our government.

...perhaps because his career has put him so directly in touch with the popular imagination, he also gives voice to the common wisdom of the day -- even if that wisdom is wrong, as it is when it assigns the state's troubles to public workers, welfare recipients and illegal immigrants.
[Emphasis added]

The editorial did, for the most part, get it right. The governor knows better. What the editorial should have done (and didn't), however, is to rebut that "common wisdom" with the facts readily available to it. Studies have shown that undocumented workers ultimately don't cost the state. They pay a disproportionate share of their income on sales taxes at the grocery store, clothing store, and at the gasoline pump. They have state and federal taxes deducted from their paychecks. Even more, they pay into federal programs such as Medicare and Social Security in which they will never be able to enroll.

An editorial with those hard facts would have been stronger. It also would have fulfilled the press's obligation to inform the public. I give it a C+, but at least it's a start.

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