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Friday, June 09, 2006

Liberal Failings?

EJ Dionne has a good op/ed piece in the Washington Post this morning, "Lessons for Liberals in California". Unfortunately, he missed the one big lesson from the California initiative votes.

While he calls it liberal failings, or lessons for liberals, it's really a lesson for everyone, if they've been paying attention.

For those not on the "left coast", California has an interesting initiative system, put something on the ballot, get enough votes, it's the law (unless a judge throws it out). Things can end up on the ballot through petition drives, legislation, a number of ways. It really is a great democracy experiment, where the voters become the legislators.

In the case of Tuesday's primary election, 2 big initiatives were on the ballot, one to raise taxes on the rich (income of 400k/yr or greater) to pay for universal preschool, the other to spend half a billion or so on libraries throughout the state financed by selling state bonds. Both got whacked.

Now, if I were a betting liberal, I'd have thought the preschool initiative was a sure winner. It has all the 'big L' Liberal hallmarks. 'It's for the children', 'tax the rich', 'universal preschool', how could it fail?

It was easy, and I saw it in my 14 years out there. The 'big L' Liberals forgot to consult the 'little d' democrats who make up most of the party out there. They've seen the 'tax the rich' initiatives for decades, and know the truth. Usually the cost comes out 20-50% hirer than the initiatives estimates. Then the state has to find a way to make up that shortfall in a voter mandated program the legislature can't kill.

Where does the extra money come from? Other programs get cut, someone elses piece of the pie gets smaller. Why? Well the voters have already made it nearly impossible to raise taxes (without 2/3 of them approving), and have mandated so many programs the legislature can't work out budget issues without killing something.

In the mid 80's when I first moved to California intiatives passed easily, by the late 90's when I moved it was getting tougher and tougher to pass anything with a tax mandate on it.

Governor Schwarzenegger learned the "big lesson" that EJ misses when most of the initiatives he backed failed, too. Still, no one on either side of the aisle has figured out the true lesson of the last 3 years of initiatives.

The big lesson isn't folks don't want to tax the rich, or they don't want universal pre-school. The big lesson is Californians have figured out they don't want to legislate. They seem to be learning that the golden democracy experiment is a failure. By hamstringing the legislature with tons of mandates, and limited power to deal with the budget their state is in a near perpetual state of fiscal chaos. From one year to the next it's impossible to figure out which non-voter mandated programs will be around if the budget is short of cash.

As much as folks in other states sometimes hate their representative legislature, the folks in California are figuring out that system works better than law by the masses.

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Blogger Paula said...

I almost always vote no on the initiatives. Frankly, they annoy me.

7:58 AM  
Blogger MDConservative said...

Being way over on the East I didn't catch tons of the local coverage. I am curious, did the left roll out their mantra:

"We didn't REALLY lose, it was just that we were unable to get our message out."

Honest question, I'd like a running tally on how many times the left says that.

10:12 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

There was something about how the Repubs had to spend MORE money to win blah blah, so it was a, er, Dem victory in that sense. Right.

11:30 AM  
Blogger shoprat said...

Alot of these proposals also increase the size and scope of government, which is also something very few people want. Like it or not, most Americans are individualists.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Crazy Politico said...

Paula, I know how you feel, many of the initiatives in the years I lived there seems to be aimed at helping one or two special interests, not the millions in the state.

MDC, "moral victories" don't mean much in elections.

Shoprat, I think that in Ca. especially, folks are realizing that quite a bit more often than they used to.

10:12 PM  

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