Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blue State Blues

People tend to see California as a reliably blue state: one that can always be counted to go for the Democrats during an election, especially a national one. That view is simplistic. While the state has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee for more two decades, it has a Republican governor. While the state has two Democratic senators, it has also given Congress such gems as Duke Cunningham, David Dreier, and John Doolittle.

The state legislature breaks down pretty much the same way. The Democrats have the majority in both the senate and assembly, but they still can't get a budget passed which will stop the flow of red ink. The Republicans won't get on board any proposal, even one floated by their own governor, if it involves "raising taxes." As a result, the state is getting perilously close to bankruptcy, and businesses, the GOP's natural constituency, are failing. And the Republicans still won't budge. It's as if the conservative ideology is far more important than the welfare of the state and all of its citizens, including the commercial sector.

Peter Schrag, the former editorial page editor for the Sacramento Bee, has an interesting op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times in which he comes to the same conclusion and provides numbers to back his analysis up.

It's been more than a year since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warned his fellow California Republicans that "we're dying at the box office. We're not filling the seats." But the consequences of the GOP's self-isolating ethnic and ideological narrowness are even more frightening today than they were then. With each passing day, Republicans look ever more like a suicidal cult than a political party.

Conventional wisdom holds that the years of budget gridlock in Sacramento have been the product of the zero-sum conflict between the extreme left of the Democrats and the extreme right of the Republicans -- no cuts in spending on the one side, no increased taxes on the other.

But in the current crisis, the Democrats have in fact agreed to major cuts; the Republicans remain adamant on revenue. That resistance, as most people must know by now, is made possible by California's nearly unique constitutional provision requiring a two-thirds majority in the Legislature to enact a budget or increase taxes. If five Republicans -- two in the state Senate, three in the Assembly, both of which have Democratic majorities -- broke ranks, there'd be no gridlock.

But that's only part of the story. In a survey last year by the Public Policy Institute of California, 52% of the state's Democrats identified themselves as liberals, 31% as "middle of the road" and 17% as conservative.

Republicans were far more rigidly conservative: 67% called themselves conservative, 21% called themselves middle of the road and 8% said they were liberal.

Here's the thing, those 44 Republicans in the state legislature have all signed a pledge that they will not vote for any budget that raises taxes, only one that cuts services without any tax hike or any increase in fees. So far, they have managed to obstruct any meaningful fix of the state's current fiscal disaster.

What I fear is that the state's Republican's are providing a template for their colleagues in Congress, and that the 111th Congress will suffer the same gridlock as the 110th when it comes to meaningful legislation that will ameliorate the current economic meltdown and get the country back on the road to a sensibly based recovery. Given the Democratic Congressional leadership, that is certainly not out of the question.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Republicans won't get on board any proposal, even one floated by their own governor, if it involves "raising taxes." As a result, the state is getting perilously close to bankruptcy"

Increasing tax rates makes no sense in California: the tax rates are already so high there. It is the overspending that makes California bankrupt. Something must be done about this, starting with the grossly overpaid state employees.

4:16 AM  

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