Californians reject bigger-budget plans

In the run-up to Tuesday’s special election, California voters were told all kinds of scary stories about what would happen if they didn’t pass five ballot measures crafted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature:

Thousands of inmates would be released from prisons. Billions of dollars would be cut from public education. Five thousand state workers would be laid off.

Californians responded Tuesday by soundly defeating all five ballot measures. Good for them.

Although the Golden State now faces not-so-golden budget problems, Tuesday’s vote will force state officials to come to grips with the fact that voters there won’t accept unending tax increases, unlimited government borrowing and more financial finagling. They want some semblance of fiscal responsibility from state government.

Voters also realized that, despite the scary stories, there were some equally frightening possibilities if the measures did pass. Tax hikes that were supposed to be temporary would be extended and there would be greater incentive for the Legislature to raise taxes in the future. One of the most expensive education systems in the country would grow more costly. The business climate that is viewed as among the most unfriendly in the nation
would only get worse. Families and businesses would continue to flee from the state.

The first of the five measures was pitched as a restraint on government growth. It would have set supposed limits on how much state revenue could increase each year. But the limits were generous enough that they would have done little to actually restrain growth.

And measure 1A would have continued the temporary tax hikes mentioned above.

The measure did include a provision to set aside money in a rainy day fund to help the state cope with future downturns, which is sensible enough on its face. But the very next ballot measure, 1B, would have gobbled up the lion’s share of the rainy day fund to increase spending for public schools. It’s no great surprise that the California teachers’ union spent millions of dollars on advertising, trying to win support for that measure.

The remaining three ballot measures would have allowed the Legislature to raid various trust funds, borrow against future lottery revenue and add billions of dollars in state debt.

But California voters said “No” to all of them.

The vote comes just weeks after a poll showed citizen support for the Democrat-dominated California Legislature at its lowest level since pollsters began tracking such things.

Disapproval of the Legislature among Democratic voters was nearly as high as among Republicans.

Regardless of their party affiliation, California voters demonstrated they are fed up with lawmakers who think they can always squeeze more money out of taxpayers and find other ways to avoid needed budget cuts. National politicians would do well to pay attention to Tuesday’s California vote.


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