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California: Once Golden, Now Just Toast

California: Once Golden, Now Just Toast

California, you may have heard, is broke.  Really broke.  So broke that yesterday the Regents of the University of California began brainstorming what to do should additional revenues fail to materialize in the event Governor Jerry Brown’s pet initiative to raise taxes fails at the ballot box this fall.

Given how much of Brown’s plans for the future revolve around this ballot proposition—Prop. 30—you’d think the governor would be more careful about the messages he sends to us voters.  What he’s done, as opposed to what he’s said, strike a lot of us as reason to vote against him.

I happen to know a prominent Californian who knows Brown, and though their politics are poles apart, he calls the governor “a sober and serious politician who’s trying his best.  He’s definitely not Governor ‘Moonbeam”—the nickname bestowed on Brown his first time in office more than three decades ago.

Maybe, but moonbeamism is an apt word to describe Brown’s consuming affection for the pie-in-the-sky idea of constructing America’s first bullet train, connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco.  Two months ago, his very public lobbying of the state legislature got him $8 billion for the train’s inaugural steps.

That’s all fine and good for him.  But how could that boondoggle not have cost him thousands, maybe millions, of votes for the ballot initiative that he’s framed as essential to the state’s financial health?

To the average Californian, like me, there’s so much wrong with the train proposal that its route through the lightly populated Central Valley instead of along the coast and its less-than-bullet speed are now beside the point.

The most optimistic estimates of final cost project a shortfall of $60 billion, and the most optimistic projection of ridership leaves the train having to be subsidized to the tune of hundreds of dollars a ticket until Captain Kirk begins dictating his captain’s logs.  Make that Capt. Picard.

Not a single ordinary Californian expects this train to get built.  Nor do we want it, not when everything else in this formerly golden state is crumbling either physically or metaphorically, and our actual budget deficit, free of accounting legerdemain, may be $20 billion.

When you add in unfunded liabilities like pensions for public-employee unions, we’re not much more solvent than Greece.

So we were surprised that the governor would waste so much political capital and dwindling credibility on this fast train to nowhere given that the Prop. 30 tax hike would optimistically raise $2 billion less than the train allocation.

It goes without saying that Brown would love to simply sign higher taxes into law; if possible, he’d have done it on taking office early last year.  But California requires bills that raise taxes to get yeas from two-thirds of the legislature before reaching the governor’s desk, something that even in heavily Democratic California is a nigh impossibility.

That’s why, in November, we will be asked to vote yes on the governor’s initiative to increase our state sales tax another quarter percent—that is, a mere penny on every four dollars spent; no big deal, right?—and establish three new income-tax rates on those with taxable incomes over $250,000, $300,000, and $500,000 respectively.

In theory, this should be easy, at least according to those who imagine that, like them, voters have few scruples and will readily vote to increase some other guy’s taxes (I actually don’t include Brown in that group).

But in this last June’s election, weeks before Brown’s public cheerleading for the train funds, millions of Californians had already sent him and our legislature a loud message that they must’ve been too preoccupied to hear: Sacramento could have the train funds or they could possibly have the tax hike—but not both.

By the closest margin in California’s history of ballot propositions, Prop 29—the California Cancer Research Act, which would’ve added a buck to each pack of cigarettes—was defeated. The counting took weeks and came down to fewer than several thousand votes out of five million cast.

Prop 29’s authors and major supporters were dumbfounded.  They blamed the loss on the tobacco companies’ poisoning our minds with $47 million worth of “propaganda.”  You see, at 15 percent, California has the second lowest smoking rate in the country; only Mormon-infused Utah is lower.

Their cynical calculation was that 85 voters with no lungs in the game would vote against the pockets of the 15 once they heard that 60 percent of the new funds raised—nearly half a billion dollars annually—were allocated for research “into the prevention, detection, treatment, and potential cures of cancers and other tobacco-related illness, including heart disease.”

Who could be against all that, especially if it doesn’t cost them anything?

As someone who prefers to be at least two zip codes upwind of a burning cigarette, I’m certain that Prop 29 lost for one overarching reason: Californians have grown deaf to hysterical, doomsday warnings—exactly the kind, from a fiscal perspective, that Governor Brown and fellow supporters of Prop 30 will soon be chanting like a mantra.

(You will not be surprised to learn that, though many initiatives qualified for the fall ballot, our secretary of state placed Brown’s first; hence its number.  Conventional wisdom is that propositions are more likely to pass the higher they appear on the ballot.)

Here, for example, was Doug Ulman, president of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which took a lead position in support of Prop 29:

The defeat of this life-saving initiative is a genuine tragedy.  Big Tobacco lied to voters to protect its profits and spent $50 million to ensure it can continue peddling its deadly products to California kids.

Well, that’s one way to look at it.  Another is that a genuine tragedy is a tree falling onto a house, killing kids.

As for the lies, they were what’s known as truths.  The ads noted factually that the money raised in-state by the tax increase wouldn’t necessarily remain here for research—and that the funds would establish yet another bureaucratic entity, operated with the remaining 40 percent of the revenue, to collect and distribute the monies without public input or scrutiny.

Then there’s the fact that, even if the proposition had passed with 100 percent of the vote, tobacco companies would still have been free to peddle their “deadly products”.  Prop 29 neither criminalized tobacco nor allowed anyone under 18 from buying it.

In California, as elsewhere, years of crying wolf like that have inured the populace, who actually does recognize that the beasts are actually baying at our door.  We just no longer trust our elected hunters to shoot straight.  Especially after $8 billion that doesn’t exist can be found for a quixotic boondoggle.

When the campaign-commercial season reaches its critical final weeks, Prop 30 will be sold as a last-ditch effort to save public education.  Ads galore will paint grim scenarios of what will befall “the children” and thus “our future as Californians” if we don’t vote to raise taxes and “save our schools.”

Most legislators will join the robocall chorus, not only in the hopes of sparing themselves from having to solve the budget problem with some hard choices, but also to ensure that they continue receiving the largesse of public-employee unions whose influence would be threatened by (further) draconian cuts necessitated by the proposition’s failure.

Indeed, the primary financial backers of the signature drive to get the proposition on the ballot were the same unions whose benefits packages, voted on in better days, are contributing disproportionately to our insolvency.

No matter how cruelly they beg for our votes, though, preserving the status quo of California’s public schools is something fewer taxpayers are inclined to do.

And no wonder.  United Teachers of Los Angeles, for example, voted four times in four years to shorten the academic year in order to preserve union jobs—a move necessitated in part by reduced funding resulting from declining enrollment tied to the appalling quality of the education they provide.

UTLA manages to make the thought of shutting down the schools and starting over an appealing one.

Come to think of it, a multibillion-dollar train to nowhere that will never be built anyway is a perfect metaphor for the fate of Proposition 30.

Despite all the scaremongering, six days after Halloween it will lose.  But unlike Prop 29, the margin won’t be close.  Californians who refused to stick smokers with the tab for, say, melanoma research—which has nothing to do with smoking—will not stick it to themselves so that public employees can remain insulated from the real world and legislators from the consequences of their inaction.


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SoCA Conservative Mom | September 14, 2012 at 10:33 am

Considering the voters in CA keep voting in the same lunatics, I’m not confident Prop 30 will fail.

At least Massachusetts got a useful highway and a major reconstruction of infrastructure abutting it for their $15 billion overrun on the Big Dig.
Californians need to find an indigenous rare species that is attracted to railways and needs protecting.

As a refugee from the Peoples Republic of Bats*** Crazy California, I sympathize…well..kind of…NOPE, just Gas!!

The more they shoot themselves in their collective heads, the MORE they shoot themselves in their collectivist heads..! So, they RE-ELECTED Babs Vapid-Lefty Boxer to the US-Senate and put Jerry Boy in the Guv’s mansion instead of a hugely successful, savvy corporate CEO Woman.

I miss my mountains, Cambria, Tamarack Lodge at Mammoth and the side of the San Gabriels from which my living room overlooked LA for many years…It’s a gorgeous continent unto itself. HOWEVER, it’s populated by the Clueless, the Useless, the Illegal and–most destructive of ALL–the Left. The deeper the state sinks beneath the waves, the more entrepreneurs and businesses flee for safety, the more rabid PC-Insanity grows, the more neo-Marxist horses**t perpetuates the vacuous elites…The MORE All of the above is repeated.

From here in Central Florida(gorgeous, prosperous Winter Park)my beautiful wife and I can go to the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and ‘kick-back’ the way we used to in Calif. And, mix with down-to-earth REAL Folks with REAL Kids and gorgeous turf. Aaaannnnddddddd, know what else..?? Memorials in all the little towns to The CONFEDERATE Dead…With, I might add, nearly No PC-Thought Police to scowl and wag disapproving fingers. Go figure.

Nice article, but as a 5-decades California resident I take exception to your failing to recognize that Brown is a total jerk.

“he calls the governor a sober and serious politician who’s trying his best.”

What does he mean? That Jerry Brown pursues insane crackpot ideas in a sober and serious manner?

    Henry Hawkins in reply to pst314. | September 14, 2012 at 11:23 am

    *If I recall correctly*, it was Brown in his first go-round as CA gov who installed many of the reasons CA is broke today, like public employee unions.

I have to agree with Rick.

Brown may be a “sober and serious politician who’s trying his best,” he is in a class of politicians who are jerks. No matter how sober of a jerk or how politically serious of a jerk he is, he still thinks like a jerk.

The train to no where is means to achieve Brown’s (and many other leftists controlling California) socialist dream of moving Californians to mini apartments all along the central valley, all riding bicycles and served by the magic bullet train taking them to work and back every day in more desirable cities.

There is no more self-destructive voter than a California voter — because most of them have the intelligence to know better. Like the children they are, they simply vote what feels good.

Well said, Mr. Engle!

Democrat Party, you own this scandal. You feelings and good intention mask deceit, malice and scandal. Your electoral rejection is the deserved response.

Your party line rejects your accountability.

You left the electorate with crushing debt that will be voted and legislated away by a generation that should hold Nuremburg trials for crimes against generations that killed their nascent peers (abortion on demand in all cases) and tried to enshrine with case law the collusion of prejudiced judges the sabotage of traditional families against the vote of the people (Proposition 8 and specifically Judge Vaughn Walker).

The sanctity of life and family are related to these onerous projects because you Democrats have behaved the same way toward them: You betrayed the public trust dealing with them. You embraced depravity and rejected the express will of the people the way Antonio Villaragosa rejected the voice vote of the Delegates to the Democratic National Convention three times in a row.

Thank you, Professor!

California passed the Lottery *waaaaay* back in the mid 80’s. It was supposed to “save” the schools once and for all. Except the money from the Lottery wasn’t ever used for the schools. It went right to the general fund and schools were screwed. Californians would rather be “cool” than competent. Even if being cool means killing jobs, screwing public schools, and taxing the middle class and the poor until they leave the state.

Linda Ronstadt was right.

How can people organize against a project with so much money behind it? Whatever they spend on graft and a political campaign just goes right into the project costs so its impossible to fight against it. Seriously write a check for $5 million to every pol in the state legislature and your still covered.

Jerry Brown was born stupid, and despite a Jesuit education, raised stupid, has been stupid his entire life, and will die stupid.

i’ve got a Persian cat smarter than he is, because at least the cat learns. whatever part of the high speed fail project that gets built will serve best as the worlds largest and most expensive seismograph.

i mean really, who the hello wants to be up in the air on a union built elevated rail line doing 200 or so mph when a quake hits? or even be at ground level, for that matter.

if i need to go someplace, i’ll get in the car and drive: i leave when i want, take the route i want, stop where i want, and, at the other end of the trip, i have my own transportation instead of standing on a street corner, surrounded by homeless drug addicts, criminals and illegal aliens all waiting patiently for their government provided cattle car.

that is, at least until i and HRH, both natives, can get the hell out of here and move somewhere sane, like Texas or North Carolina.

What about Prop 31? It’s far more insidious, and is a tocsin of Obama’s second term. Stanley Kurtz has written and warned extensively about it.

I don’t know if the tax increase will pass or not but, if it does, the estimated revenue will not be a result. People with incomes over $500K often have many options, one of which is to move out of the state. As Maryland has learned, it doesn’t take a lot to get them to leave, taking their incomes with them.

My home state, Rhode Island, has tried to be a mini-California and they too are broke, have a loon serving as governor along with a bullet proof democrat dominated legislature.

I fled RI back in 1990 after hearing the same ol’ thing for fifty years… “Things will never change.”

After settling in and eventually retiring in Texas, I’m sooooo much better off. The political scene here isn’t all that great but it pales in comparison that of CA where the loony stuff begins and RI where emulation is leading to collapse.

Now, all I have to worry about is the country and the world…

JimMtnViewCaUSA | September 14, 2012 at 11:59 am

Driving by local high schools recently, I noticed that one has a new “roof” of solar panels over the student parking lot, and the other has a new athletic field.
I wonder if this sort of thing will be noticed when voters are told our schools are suffering from lack of funds.

Let alone the closing of parks while the Parks Dept had millions stashed in a rainy-day fund.

I urge CA readers to sign up for the weekly email available from HJTA.ORG. This is the venerable Howard Jarvis (Prop 13) anti-tax watchdog group. They are excellent at keeping tabs on Sac-to.


[The Decaying Despots of California]

You may recall, how long ago,
We came from far and wide.
To toil in a garden rich and ripe,
Blessed with a temperate clime.
It seemed the “very best of Earth”,
Kissed by Heaven for all time.

From the soaring peaks of mountains,
To the glistening seas and bays,
Honest sweat and honest living,
Made an Eden for our days.
And we never did imagine,
It could ever go away.

Amidst the plenty and prosperity,
So-called “leaders” rose to rule.
They wore a swindler’s kindly face,
But within were cold and cruel.
They wielded awesome power and might—
Crass patronage* their tool.

The “liberality” of these monarchs,
Over time took a hideous toll.
The fisc** was raped for the socialists’ sake
And the people lost their soul.
From “we can earn” to “we are owed”,
Our zeal was replaced by the dole.

Our state now poor, our citizens weak,
A cloud now covers our land.
Where water once flowed, a tiny fish,
Now rules at the monarchs’ command.
And over all, an “entitlement” scourge,
Compels us make a stand.

We are “led” by Democrat dinosaurs,
Who have betrayed their public trust.
They deny they owe us anything,
But the right to govern in their lust,
For eternal power and unearned praise—

* Patronage = the distribution of jobs, power, and favors on a political basis, as to those who have supported one’s party or political campaign. See also, Demo Rat Machine.

** Fisc = the state treasury. See also, Demo Rat Deficits, now projected at 4.19 TRILLION

The same people who voted for this boondoggle are now the ones who don’t want it running through prime property. Well, where did they THINK it was going to be built? In the heavens, alongside the rest of their pie-in-the-sky?

That’s liberals: fancy ideas but no desire to bear even small inconveniences to fulfill them. (Called “preserving one’s rights.”) Unless, of course, it’s with someone else’s money on someone else’s property at someone else’s inconvenience, however grave. (Then it’s called “giving back” and “civic duty.” For “thee, not me,” of course. Overlords don’t have to “give back.”)

California Democrats are so out to lunch on the budget that they were looking to Facebook to bail them out.

Not working out so well is it? Maybe the “Big One” will save us?


Try not to sit with your legs spread out when I sit next to you on the train … when gasoline hits $50 a gallon. I have a rather sensitive personal-space bubble.

Across the street from us is our kids’ (and my old) elementary school, here in the Progs Peeps Repub of Santa Monica.

The school banned playing tag. And on the fence are now large banners of “No smoking/dogs/skateboarding” etc.

Funny, but back in the 1960s when I was a (quite adorable and precocious) student there, and a far greater percentage of the parents were smokers, and a far greater percentage of unleashed dogs and skateboarders galloped and rolled freely across the fruited plains, I don’t remember ever once in my six years there of there being a problem of parents blowing smoke in the students’ faces, or marauding packs of skateboarding dogs bumming smokes in front of the kids. But this dearth of real problems morphed into a set of easily banned imaginary problems for administrators to smugly cross off their “To do” list with a laughable sense of accomplishment.

Meanwhile, as California goes down the tubes, we supposedly have some sort of transportation problem (I dunno about you, but I can make it to San Francisco by car in the time it takes to watch two football games back to back on TV … or even more quickly, and very cheaply, by plane) that can be easily solved with a great sense of accomplishment (if you’re Thomas Friedman) with just enough money to sink a battleship.

All the time, parents hand out flyers in front of our elementary school about new local tax initiatives to raise money for our schools which are supposedly “in crisis.”

They tell me that to vote the wrong way is to vote against education. They need more money. Hmmmm. Ever seen the inside of a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District school classroom? Compared to a Japanese elementary school, they look like giant stashes of bling.

I remember our oldest daughter’s classroom in Japan before we moved back to America. Nothing but a chalkboard and individual desks, and, in the winter, a portable, camping-style kerosene heater (the kind which necessitates occasional opening of the windows lest mass asphyxiation take place).

Japanese schools look like drab, bombed-out relics from WWII. Driving by a school one day, I asked my wife, “Why don’t the Japanese paint their schools and spruce ’em up?”

Her reply: “How would that make students study harder? How would that help test scores?”

She has spent endless hours volunteering in our kids’ classrooms … and I get to hear endless hours of her laughing about how far behind the Japanese we are. She marvels at our lavishly equipped and decorated classrooms, and then punctuates this with something like, “Oh my God. I was helping the teacher with her math lesson today. Americans are doing in the third grade what we Japanese do in kindergarten! It’s a joke!”

Yeah, but who gets special self-esteem training to make up for any performance gap?

So, as we spend tons of money trying to beg and entertain our children with frills galore into learning, the Japanese get down to business in bare-bones classrooms and beat the pants off us in academic test scores. They have trains … but then, they have 125 million people squeezed into a land region the size of California, even much smaller than California if you lop off the second largest of the four main islands, the cold and sparsely populated Hokkaido in the north.

LukeHandCool (who doesn’t have time to proofread this perhaps rambling rant, and who, occasionally enjoying a cigarette on his front porch in the morning with a cup of coffee, breaking Santa Monica’s law against smoking within 100 feet of a school, almost wishes an uptight parent rushing by would remind him of the law, so Luke, ever the slightly illegal insurrectionist, could yell back, “Go ahead. Arrest me!”)

    The only people benefiting from California’s $50+ BILLION a year budget for ‘education’ are the hacks running the ‘department of education,’ district supervisors (some making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year), bad teachers, union goons, and the democrat party.

    It’s almost as great a crisis as moron Michelle Obama’s obesity crisis — for which she is the poster child.

I live in the Golden [Shower] State. My county voted 73% for Obama in 2008. The local governments are run by aging hippies and Mexican reconquistas. There are about 1,600 miles of county-maintained roads. Due to budget constraints, only 150 miles are going to be maintained. The rest will be allowed to return to gravel. Bicyclist groups are trying to get “hate crime” status for motorists who are rude to cyclists. (Maybe when the roads have returned to gravel, the cyclists will go away.) Public employee unions run the county. There is an impending public employee pension implosion. Taxes will have to be dramatically increased to pay for it. One of the local school districts is spending $350,000 to find out why there aren’t more hispanics in special ed. I kid you not! Hispanics are “underrepresented” in special ed programs, and they want to know if it’s racially motivated. I thought it was a good thing if a kid didn’t need to be put in a special ed class. Take a look at the ballot propositions coming up this November, most of which are expected to pass. More taxes coming. The bullet train to nowhere… There is no end to the screwed up things going on here. A fool’s paradise.

obviously, this is the most apt response to the fiscal crisis.

    Henry Hawkins in reply to drozz. | September 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Heh. Like most commenters, I know that commenter-placed links can be a mixed bag, on man’s trash and all that, but thank you for making that a good one, lol. I won’t spoil except to say it returned me to a classic.

[…] Still California, the Stupid State Posted on September 14, 2012 1:30 pm by Bill Quick » California: Once Golden, Now Just Toast – Le·gal In·sur·rec&middo… When the campaign-commercial season reaches its critical final weeks, Prop 30 will be sold as a […]

Joel- First time reader. Great job!