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Collective Guilt and the California Budget

A look at the past week.

— They say democracy is a terrible system of government until you consider the alternative. But there’s got to be something that works better than democracy in California.

The latest news from Sacramento is more of the same. California’s new governor (aka California’s old Governor, Jerry Brown) has to fill a $25 billion budget hole. This has Jerry dreaming of the budget surpluses he used to have in the 1970’s. It’s also caused him to propose huge cuts to Medi-Cal and higher education. Meanwhile, he’s hoping voters will agree to extend some sun-setting tax increases and increase the vehicle license fee. Good luck with that.

This year’s situation is another in a seemingly endless succession of financial crises that Brown’s predecessor could not affect. California isn’t alone. Illinois, a much smaller state, has managed to create a budget deficit of $15 billion. But at least Illinois was able to respond by increasing the state income tax. The only way to increase taxes in California is to pass a supermajority vote in the Legislature (a virtual impossibility given GOP opposition) or ask voters to increase taxes on themselves.

Politics requires accountability. So who IS to blame for California’s financial mess? Schwarzenegger? Republicans? Democrats? No, the blame lies with all of us. Let’s talk about collective guilt.

It’s a concept that’s been applied to the people of Nazi Germany. The German people, we think, bore responsibility for the evils of the Hitler regime even though the government was a dictatorship and very few Germans were directly involved with the killing of Jews. You have to prove personal responsibility to convict people for specific crimes. But the entire German nation bore collective responsibility because their cooperation was essential in order to operate the diabolical Nazi machine. Collective guilt is a weight that Germany carries even today, when the country is populated by people who had nothing to do with Nazism.

So if the German people could be held responsible for Nazism, can Californians be blamed for our dysfunctional government? Of course we can! We not only live in a democracy we live in a direct democracy.

Since the whole thing is our fault, let me propose a possible solution. If voters are going to continue to make policy decisions, through direct democracy, let’s give them a choice and make them accountable. Don’t just propose a tax boost and put it on the ballot for a popular vote, up or down, as Jerry Brown wants to do.

Let voters choose either a tax increase or a package of budget cuts that would also appear on the ballot. They’d have to choose one or the other, and the proposal with the most votes would win and become policy. It would be just like choosing between two candidates.

The beauty of this is people will know what services they’re getting rid of, as they keep their taxes low, and they’ll be responsible for it. The system will need close regulation so the proposals are presented simply yet truthfully.

If you think this system will be even more disastrous than what we already have, you may be right. But it will force us to acknowledge that this state really does belong to us, and with freedom comes responsibility. Collective responsibility.

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Avatar for user 'EarlRichards'

EarlRichards | January 14, 2011 at 12:52 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

There is very little difference between Brown's budget proposals and previous budgets, because Brown's budget is master-minded by the oil industry. There is no provision for closing corporate tax loopholes, no oil extraction tax and no oil corporation, windfall profits tax. Californians pay the highest price for gasoline in the nation. Brown's budget is the same, because again, it picks on the most vulnerable. Jerry appears to be working for Big Oil and not for the Californians who voted for him.

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Avatar for user 'Greg Duch'

Greg Duch | January 17, 2011 at 6:22 p.m. ― 6 years, 1 month ago

In California, we have a unique state government, consisting of four branches of state government:
The Executive, The Judicial, The Sacramento Legislature, and The People's Legislature, as manifested in the power of The Initiative, The Recall, and the power to amend the state constitution. The Sacramento legislature is often, de facto, inferior to the power of the Peoples' Legislature.
Since "The People" possess so much law-making power, they also have the responsibility to make wise choices for the good of the state, and enable the state to function in a fiscally feasible and fair manner. Voting to limit or eliminate state sources of funding is fine; but realize that you have to live with the consequences of "NO-FRILLS' fiscal policy decisions made a the ballot box. If "THE PEOPLE" want adequate services, streets and freeways in good repair, etc. then, THEY HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY to ensure adequate sources of funding are available. It's a very simple concept: "You get what you pay for." You cannot expect that voting for "A FREE LUNCH"
will realistically create a "FREE LUNCH" for Californians.

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