Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why I didn't Vote on May 19, 2009

Last Tuesday, for the first time since I was old enough to vote -- 1972 -- I didn't. Why? Because I'm sick and tired. Of a lot of things. Of doing the state legislature's work for them, for one. 

I'm sick of having to become a legislative analyst every six months and of trying to anticipate the blow-back lurking in the current ill-conceived proposal. State ballot initiatives almost invariably (except when they endorse discrimination against People Who Are Not Like Us) address transient problems with cast-in-concrete budget micromanagement -- for example, the hallowed Proposition 13 that keeps business real estate taxes at 1979 amounts in 2009. 

But the fundamental target of my disgust is California's tyranny-of-the-minority budgeting, its designed-to-run-amok  ballot initiative system, and its elected officials' knee-jerk refusal to raise taxes progressively, by increasing income tax, instead of regressively, through fees and sales taxes. 

Electing a new governor next year won't solve anything -- that's just another exercise in Titanic deck chair arrangement. As Jerry Brown observed recently, being governor of California is a "career terminator." 

It's time to grow up, California. We need to stop indulging our fairy tale of direct democracy and start living in the reality-based world, like responsible adults.  It's time to amend the state constitution to rein in ballot initiatives, let the state pass a budget and levy taxes with a simple majority, and -- dare I say it? -- repeal Proposition 13. That's one ballot initiative I'd vote for.


  1. Carolyn,
    I believe that if you can not care enough to vote that you lose your right to complain. By not voting you are cast into the role of being the problem rather than a solution.

    The problem the election caused was one of interpretation of the results. I did not ask for massive cuts to key services. I showed my displeasure at uncontrolled spending. There are many things the state could do with out first besides reducing school funding, police & fire cuts and the other items that should have priority. Look in the phone book under state of Cal lee forn ia and go through the alphabet soup of agency's and boards and commissions.

    Property taxes are not at 1979 levels. They have been raised by 2% per year for 29yrs. $500.00 taxes in 1979 would be around $853.00 today. not equal to those taxes paid by recent home purchasers but certainly not 1979 levels. It would appear to be a 56% increase. Look at the average retiree in 1979 and see how they would have been affected by the old system vs prop 13.

    Ed Richards

  2. Thanks Ed -- that's what I usually say when people tell me they don't vote;) And had I voted, I would have probably voted 'no' on everything as a protest against continuing to rearrange the Titanic's deck chairs. We have to face up to it - living in a civilized society as opposed to anarchy, costs money. Taxes are the bill we pay for everything from paved streets to that public safety officer who saves your life with CPR.

    Unfortunately, we have yet to figure out how to shut down bureaucracies -- short of revolution and anarchy -- that have outlived their purposes (a history professor of mine attributed the fall of Rome to what he termed "Oggins' law of bureaucracy: Bureaucracies will grow until they suffocate the society that spawned them). And that's certainly as serious a public issue as figuring out how to effectively address new and changing needs.

    But I'm wary of public policy by ballot initiative. It's like performing an appendectomy with an axe. he reason we pay legislators is because it takes a lot of time and research to fully understand issues, policy alternatives, probable results, and unintended consequence, and to design sound legislation and administrative processes.

    One reason we're in this mess is term limits - we no longer have people like John Vasconcellos, Willie Brown or George Dukmejian in state government, who had the experience and skills to govern. Perhaps there's a silver lining here. Since the California legislature has become dysfunctional, we could furlough them and save a boatload of public money immediately;)