Giving the Democrats more power in California — is that what we really want?

A friend emailed me with a question about an initiative poised for California’s November ballot, called the “Simple Majority” initiative.  I’ll let the Wall Street Journal explain:

Two groups are pushing ballot initiatives they say would purge that chaos from Sacramento’s budget process. A bipartisan group, California Forward, is pushing a reform to let legislators pass budgets by a simple majority instead of the current two-thirds threshold. Repair California, which is affiliated with a pro-business group, is gathering support to hold a constitutional convention to rewrite state laws. Such a convention could alter the budget process and other facets of governance in California.

The recession has pinched state budgets across the nation, prompting legislatures to enact tax increases and spending cuts. California has an especially tough time solving its fiscal woes because it is one of only three states that require at least two-thirds of its state legislators to approve a spending plan. That means budget negotiations usually stall as Democrats, who make up 64% of California’s legislature, struggle to win Republican votes.


California Forward hopes to place a measure on the November ballot that would alter the budget process both for the state and local governments. It would let state legislators pass budgets by a simple majority, while maintaining the two-thirds vote requirement to raise taxes. The measure would also institute what is known as a pay-as-you-go system, in which lawmakers must identify funding sources for any new programs.

“We just have to stop the madness of these IOUs being issued and these horrible budget delays,” said Bob Hertzberg, a former Democratic speaker of the California Assembly who is co-chair of California Forward. “It sends a message…that California is dysfunctional.”

The local-government part of the proposal would make it easier for municipalities to raise sales taxes, by one percentage point, to fund education and other services. It would also prohibit the state from tapping the coffers of local governments during budget emergencies, as it did last year.

My response to my friend was that, because the Democrats are the majority in the California legislature, anything that gives them a simple majority gives them powers that have the potential to be imminently destructive to our economy. While the initiative, on its face, looks as if it would force Democrats to keep their budgets in line because they wouldn’t have concurrent taxing power (with tax increases still requiring a 2/3 majority), I’m suspicious.

Think about what’s happening in San Francisco.  As I blogged yesterday, San Francisco’s school district, which is facing a huge shortfall and is considering cutting all sorts of academic programs, is simultaneously seriously considering a significant budget increase in the form of a program that would collect statistics on gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual students, as well as helping education discrimination. The current level of discrimination is not from assaults from other students, or insults or discriminatory treatment from teachers. It’s verbal taunts, especially from the elementary school crowd – ungracious, hurtful and mean-spirited to be certain, but hard to use to justify this kind of expensive government intervention during a time of financial crisis.

It’s this fantasy PC rule-making that makes me loath to make it even easier for the pro-government crowd to pass more insane budgets. Even if they have less money, they’ll still spend it foolishly.

I’m not the only one suspicious that this is a Trojan horse that will redirect public spending away from infrastructure and towards politically favored victim groups. Republicans are also worried:

Statehouse Republicans will fight California Forward’s initiatives, said Tony Strickland, the state Senate’s Republican assistant minority leader. If the budget-approval threshold is lowered, then Republicans would lose their outsized influence in the statehouse because Democrats could pass budgets without GOP votes. The California “Central valley, the farmers, agriculture”—constituencies typically represented by Republicans—”will lose their voices,” Mr. Strickland said.

The antitax Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association will oppose any effort that would ease local governments’ ability to raise taxes, said Jon Coupal, the group’s president. He and Mr. Strickland said they will also oppose Repair California’s constitutional convention because it could result in a repeal of Proposition 13, a 32-year-old law that caps property-tax rates.

If you’re a Californian, I’d urge you to think very seriously before voting yes on this initiating, assuming that it makes it onto the ballot. The only thing that’s truly going to save California is for voters to throw the Democrats out (along with any spend, spend, spend Republicans). Unless California brings down its spending, most of which goes for government employee pensions and politically correct funding, nothing will save us.

Other people’s money

As you may recall, I said at the beginning of the summer that I was going to introduce capitalism into the house by giving my children big chores with meaningful rewards.  This plan worked fairly well.  It wasn’t quite the juggernaut I’d hoped for, with the kids taking care of all the backlog in the house, but we still got a lot done.

Part of the plan’s failure was simply the dislocation of summer:  my son went to sleep-away camp, then we went away for vacation, then the kids started long day camps, then my niece came to visit, etc., etc.  I simply could not maintain a work schedule. Even with the disruptions, though, the kids made a lot of money:  My son has amassed $175 and my daughter $165.

At the beginning of the summer, when the kids and I first agreed on this economic experiment, I promised them that they could spend the money as they wanted, subject to my veto.  My daughter wanted to spend it at Abercrombie & Fitch.  That put me in something of a bind.  Let me give you a bit of background to explain my dilemma.

One of the things I struggled with as a parent all last school year was the fact that the idea of popularity plays such a large role in 5th grade.  Because we share a school district with an extremely affluent community, the popular girls in 5th grade were the ones with money at their backs:  they live in very large homes, their parents drive very expensive cars and, most importantly from my daughter’s point of view, they wear clothes from Abercrombie & Fitch.

You may recall that A&F used to be a very staid provider of outdoors clothes.  You’re also probably aware that nowadays Abercrombie sells totally ordinary clothes, but that it makes them seem special to teens and tweens by using exceptionally salacious advertisements.

Since I disapprove deeply of A&F’s marketing plan, I refuse to spend any money there.  By the time summer began and my daughter made her request about buying clothes at A&F with any money she might earn, neither she nor I had ever set foot in Abercrombie (either the real store or the cyber store).

My first instinct was to say “no” to her request to spend her earned money at A&F.  However, I knew she would need every incentive possible to buckle down to household tasks, and this was clearly an incentive.  I also figured that we’d shop online, which would keep her out of a store festooned with what amount to soft porn pictures.  I have a little more control over what she sees if we shop online.

I needn’t have worried about any of this, though.  Now that summer’s over and she has the money in her hands, she’s decided that she doesn’t want to shop at A&F at all.  She wants to shop at Target.  Why?  Because it’s her own money.  All during the school year, when she was begging to go to A&F, she was contemplating spending my hard earned money, not her hard-earned money.  Now, however, having herself worked hard for the money, she doesn’t want to waste it.  She’s figured out that she’ll get perfectly lovely clothes at a much better price (meaning more clothes) if she shops at Target.

In other words, this summer’s experiment proved to have a double capitalism whammy.  Not only did the promise of earning real money give my children an incentive to work hard at tasks that they would otherwise not have done, the experience changed my daughter’s spending habits.  Rather than being profligate with my money, she is being wise with her own.

Her sudden wisdom about money, of course, is precisely the same argument tax foes make when they say that the government, rather than taking as much money as possible from people (the Obama model), should leave as much money as possible with people (the conservative and sort-of the McCain model).  Because the government doesn’t work for the money, it has no incentive to spend it wisely.  From the government viewpoint, every penny in the budget is “other people’s money.”  Additionally, the government knows that, with its coercive power, there’s always more where that came from.  It’s the people who work hard to make money who should be given the right to control its spending, and that’s true whether they want to spend it on a few items of high quality (or cachet) or on many items of middle quality.

I understand that there are some things that people simply can’t buy:  local and national infrastructure and national defense.  However, people should be able to decide about health care, and schools, and all sorts of things either that the government now controls in whole or in part, or that the Obamamanics want to sweep into government control.  Government, for the most part, spends money profligately; people, for the most part, spend that same money wisely.  (And even if they don’t spend it wisely, either they’re still happy with their profligacy, because it’s their choice, or they learn their lesson and don’t make that mistake again, a lesson the government never masters.)