Californians give Dems PIN numbers

Nov. 16, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — After the election results came in, I started searching for two things: a stiff drink and a good out-of-state real estate agent.

The national election sends troubling signs about the direction of the country, but nothing much will change from the past four years, so we know what to expect, even if it isn’t particularly good.

But California voters have sent their state into some new and potentially dark territory, the results of which will soon be felt.

Before the election, I quoted the late journalist and social critic H.L. Mencken, and now is a good time to repeat his tart observation that democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it … “good and hard.”

Californians are definitely going to feel the pain, not just in the passage of Proposition 30 and its direct hike in taxes.

The big news: It looks like voters have handed two-thirds legislative majorities to the Democrats. The state Senate is a sure thing, and final counting will likely yield supermajority control of the Assembly to the Democrats, thanks, in part, to North Orange County voters’ ousting of Assemblyman Chris Norby.

Currently, the only thing standing between California residents and an endless series of bumps in sales taxes, income taxes, gasoline taxes and business taxes has been the constitutional requirement that raising taxes requires a two-thirds vote.

Republicans in California don’t stand for much, but they have mostly stood together in opposition to tax increases. Likewise, Democrats — including the handful of “moderates” — have been unified in their promotion of higher taxes as the answer to California’s problems. Now the Democrats will have their way, early and often.

“It’s time to start anew and to live within our means but at the same time invest in the cornerstone of our future and of our economy, and that’s education,” Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, told CBS News. “I certainly don’t mean to suggest to my colleagues that the first thing we do is go out and raise more taxes,” he said.

Maybe not the first thing, but certainly the second and third things, if Steinberg runs the Senate the way he has up until now. Gov. Jerry Brown and other high-ranking Democrats assured the public that there will be no tax frenzy. As a headline put it, they “vow restraint,” but don’t believe them. Look at the bills the Legislature passed even when tax increases were not assured.

Public-sector unions pulled out the stops in the election to pass taxes and get Democrats unlimited power. That support comes with demands, and those unions figure to soon be receiving even higher pay and benefit levels.

Dems in charge

The only good news is that the Democrats will now completely own the state’s budget and fiscal situation. They will no longer be able to blame Republicans for holding up solutions to the state’s budgetary problems.

In recent years, good-government reformers have complained about gridlock in the state Capitol. Sympathetic voters approved a proposition in 2010 to eliminate the supermajority vote requirement for passing budgets.

Since then Republicans have been irrelevant to the budgeting process, since Democrats for years have held solid majorities in both chambers.

Whatever their flaws and inconsistencies, Republicans at least provided some counterbalance to Democratic priorities. Now, they figure to be completely irrelevant to most everything, especially when it comes to the most important power, taxing authority.

At his victory party, Gov. Jerry Brown, who threatened schools with $6 billion in cuts if voters didn’t give him what he wanted, was described as “jubilant” by the Sacramento Bee: “Brown declared victory after his tax initiative seized a narrow lead Tuesday night, calling Proposition 30 a ‘unifying force’ that countered the ‘Kool-Aid of the market ideologues.'”

That provides meaningful insight into his thinking — he sees a world in which raising taxes and building government is a great and unifying goal, and where allowing individuals to pursue their dreams and grow businesses is ideological Kool-Aid.

The governor, by the way, is more moderate than most of his fellow party members in the government.

Prop. 39

Voters also approved Prop. 39. “Democrats received a second tax boost Tuesday when Prop. 39 passed, raising $1 billion annually for clean energy programs and the state budget by increasing taxes on multistate companies based elsewhere,” reported the Bee.

Consider that result a harbinger of things to come. Many businesses based in California backed Prop. 39, figuring that it’s better to stick it to out-of-state companies than have the state government come after them.

But, as in all advanced welfare states, it’s only a matter of time before the taxers and regulators start coming for them.

While I don’t agree with a friend of mine who argued that state GOP officials ought to be placed head first in a vat of acid for their continued incompetence, I do agree that it’s time for rethinking party strategies. Republicans need to better articulate an alternative vision that is more consistent and libertarian, and that can reach beyond conservative bastions.

Then again, it may be too late. Carl DeMaio, a true GOP reformer who knows how to package free-market issues for a broad audience, lost the San Diego mayor’s race to an old-school union hack.

Prop. 32, which would have limited unions’ ability to extract dues from members to pay for the kind of bare-knuckle politics that paid off Tuesday, was beaten badly. That means that unions will continue to control the field.

After former Republican Assemblyman Chuck DeVore moved from Irvine to Austin, Texas, I chewed him out for abandoning California in its time of need. Turnabout is fair play, so he called me following this election to tease me about the new reality in California. He loves California but recommends Texas.

A lot more taxpaying Californians are going to start exploring housing options in Dallas and Houston, now that California voters have figuratively handed over to the Democrats the PIN numbers to their bank accounts.

I’m still not suggesting moving away, but it’s wise to keep a real estate agent’s number on speed dial as you watch the coming legislative session in Sacramento.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Write to him at: [email protected].

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