Business as Usual by Marlize van Romburgh
Business as Usual by Marlize van Romburgh

California’s story is once again turning into a disaster movie, and this time we’ve got the Governator at the helm. Yes, just six years after California voters pushed governor Gray Davis out of office for driving the state into record deficits, we’ve got a sequel; financial catastrophe once again looms large, and now Governor Schwarzenegger and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle again look to temporary solutions. Tomorrow’s special election and its six ballot measures have been put forth as a bi-partisan effort at fiscal responsibility – but fall completely flat. Yes, we need fiscal reform, but Propositions 1A-1E aren’t the way to do it.

The Los Angeles Times reported a few weeks ago that California, which currently holds a $20.5 billion deficit, could be completely broke by as early as July. It’s such a shame; the Golden State has everything going for it. The tenth largest economy in the world, larger even than developed nations like Spain, Canada and Australia, the state has some of the most educated, talent people in the world. From the fertile agriculture lands of the Central Valley to the high-tech industries of Silicon Valley, California should be leading the rest of the United States out of this recession. Instead, it’s struggling just to stay afloat.

And now, rather than signal drastically needed fiscal reform, the May 19 special election is just a list of hastily-drafted and ill-conceived budget propositions put forth by spend-happy lawmakers who hope to buy themselves a few more years in office. The six propositions on the ballot have been touted as ‘budget reform’ sure to set California in the right direction again, but instead, most of these measures would simply pave the way for continued government growth and irresponsible spending on the back of the private sector.

Proposition 1A is a proposed constitutional amendment that would mandate that the state transfer money to its “rainy day fund” during good fiscal years. The measure would allow the fund to collect up to 12.5 percent of state revenues and would place limits on what that money could be spent on. Yet although the spending limit begins to move in the right direction, the overall proposition falls short of true fiscal reform.

Why it shouldn’t pass: First of all, the amendment would extend the recently passed increase on retail, vehicle and income taxes by up to two years, costing taxpayers an additional $16 billion. In a struggling economy, additional tax burdens are the least thing we need. State lawmakers need to get their own spending under control before asking taxpayers to keep funding those spending habits. Prop. 1A would also give Schwarzenegger and his administration tremendous new powers over the budget, allowing the governor to make spending decisions without approval from the state legislature.

Proposition 1B hits a little closer to home for college students. It rests on the passage of 1A, and if both pass, the second proposition would force the state to pay $9.3 billion to state K-12 schools and community colleges, money education advocates believe are owed to schools from previous years. If approved, the payments would be made over the next five or six years, starting in 2011-12, and would settle a dispute which would otherwise likely end up in court.

Why it shouldn’t pass: The measure would force billions of dollars of new liabilities on the state when it already doesn’t have money to spend. Uncontrolled government spending is what landed California in this financial mess in the first place; let’s not keep compounding the problem by forcing more deficit spending onto the budget.

Proposition 1C seems to almost intentionally confuse by shuffling state money around from one fund to the next. Prop 1C asks voters to decide whether or not the state can borrow from projected future lottery profits to close its current deficit. Governor Schwarzenegger and other proponents say Prop 1C is a good thing because it would help to ease the deficit with something other than taxpayer money.

Why it shouldn’t pass: Proposition 1C would be laughable, expect for the fact that it actually exists on the ballot and is up for serious consideration. It’s your classic robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul scenario, borrowing against future state lottery funds to place money in the general fund, where it’s ripe to be spent. Even worse, the proposition is based on shaky projections; proponents believe the changes they would make to the lottery would enable it to rake in more revenues, but with the way the economy looks right now, that doesn’t seem so likely.

Much like the above ballot measure, Proposition 1D simply shuffles money around from one fund to another, under the guise of fiscal responsibility. The measure asks voters to decide whether to move money from voter-approved early childhood funding to pay for other state health and human services programs. It’s projected that the measure would “save” the general fund $608 million in fiscal year 2009-10 plus an additional $268 million a year in the four fiscal years thereafter.

Why it shouldn’t pass: Like the propositions directly above and below it on the ballot, 1D is a short-term accounting gimmick. It doesn’t do anything to actually save the state money; instead it simply moves it around and in doing so goes against the original will of the voters who passed Proposition 10 back in 1998.
Proposition 1E would shift $226.7 million this year and $234 million next year from the Prop. 63 Mental Health Services initiative to pay for the Medi-Cal health care program.

Why it shouldn’t pass: Prop 1E is another short-term gimmick. I’m starting to sound redundant, but yes, like 1D, Prop. 1E simply redirects funds from one state program to another and does nothing to reduce overall government spending.

Finally, Proposition 1F — the one measure that I actually hope does pass. Prop. 1F asks voters to decide whether to eliminate salary increases for the governor, legislators and other elected state officials whenever California’s general fund is expected to end the year in a deficit. The measure made its way onto the ballot largely thanks to our local state senator, Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria) who felt it was unacceptable for lawmakers to get pay increases in years when they can’t even balance the books.

Why it should definitely pass: If nothing else, Prop 1F is taxpayer retribution. While the actual fiscal impact of the proposition would be minor, it might serve as a wake-up call for spend-happy state lawmakers — and that alone makes it worth passing.

Voter turnout is expected to be low at tomorrow’s special election, which means your vote really counts. If you believe that short-term accounting gimmicks, higher taxes and more deficit spending are not what California needs, say “hasta la vista” to propositions 1A – 1E and send the Governator a strong message with your yes vote on Prop. 1F. It’s time lawmakers go back to the drawing board and come up with real solutions for cutting government spending and boosting California’s real heroes: its private-sector businesses.

Marlize van Romburgh is a journalism senior with an economics minor and the Mustang Daily editor in chief.

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