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Hullabaloo


Monday, July 20, 2009

 
Wrecking Ball

by digby


What with doomsday now upon us here in California, I think it's a good moment to look back just a few short years ago to see what the effects of turning our politics into circus sideshow really are.

Back in 2003, when everyone in the country was pretending that Junior was Winston Churchill and the nation was in full blown worship of phony macho posturing, here in California we were bored and decided to see what would happen if we simply deposed a guy who seemed kind of pansyish in favor of a Hollywood movie star who would entertain us with his colorful slogans and fancy family.

The "issue" that supposedly precipitated this little tantrum was the required restoration to earlier higher rates for car registration, brought about by a weakening of the economy. The media went wild, even friends of mine who know absolutely nothing about politics pretended to be enraged that they would be forced to pay $30.00 more a year and they all went out and voted to recall the Governor and replace him with The Terminator.

That recall was a political sideshow of epic proportions, featuring porn stars, Gary Coleman and even Arianna. It was great fun. Standing in line to vote that day -- the longest line I'd ever experienced at the ballot box --- was like being at an American Idol party.

But check it out. In an otherwise terrible George Skelton column, he does make one interesting observation:

Schwarzenegger had campaigned full throttle against Gov. Gray Davis' "outrageous" raising of the vehicle license fee. His favorite stunt was using a wrecking ball to smash an old jalopy that symbolized the tax.

Davis really had only bumped the fee back to its historic level: to 2% of a vehicle's value, rather than a recently enacted 0.65%.

Schwarzenegger's canceling of the fee hike actually amounted to the single biggest spending increase of his reign. That's because all the revenue from the vehicle license fee had gone to local governments, and Schwarzenegger generously agreed to make up their losses by shipping them money from the state general fund.

The annual drain on the state treasury was $6.3 billion until February. Then the governor and Legislature raised the fee to 1.15% of vehicle value, saving the state $1.7 billion. But it will revert to its lower level in two years.

Cutting the car tax plunged the state deeper into debt just as Schwarzenegger was taking the wheel. To cover it -- at least temporarily -- the new governor went on a borrowing binge. It didn't take much to persuade the Legislature and voters to authorize $15 billion in "economic recovery bonds."

Passing those bonds and a companion spending "reform," the governor promised, would mean "no more deficit financing." They'd live within their means. Sacramento would "tear up the credit card and throw it away."

The only thing thrown away was all the bond money, spent long ago on daily expenses -- the equivalent of borrowing to buy groceries.



Schwarzenneger's "car tax" plan was totally incoherent. Here's dday at Calitics talking about the "deal" made today:

Particularly galling is the targeting of city and county budgets to cover the state gap. By siphoning off almost $1 billion in gas tax funds slated for cities and counties, not one pothole in California will get filled this year. With the loss of $1.7 billion in redevlopment funds, not one project like affordable housing will get initiated. And by taking $1.3 billion in local property taxes, lots of city and county employees, particularly in public safety, will end up out of work. It's really robbery on a pretty grand scale, and it will offset any economic recovery through stimulus funding throughout the state.


And Jon and Ken and other right wing freaks will say it proves that government doesn't work.

I'm not saying the car fee issue is the reason the state is currently in chaos. It's far deeper and more complicated than that. But I do believe that the simplistic, downright silly approach Americans take to politics is largely to blame. It long ago became more about marketing and entertainment --- and preening, shallow self-gratification --- than serious consideration of responsible governance.

Arnold Schwarzenneger was as much of a clown as Gary Coleman was during that election. But he was big box office and very wealthy so nobody cared. Indeed, the fact that he spoke in nothing but stale cliches and stupid bumper stickers made people like him all the more.

The single most important thing that Schwarzenneger has done is keep the state from raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. That's what he was sent to do and he did it. And look where we are today. I'm not saying that Gray Davis could have saved the state. The system is broken and nobody couldn't have headed this off entirely. But I'm afraid that we are going to have to reform more than the state constitution to fix things. We need to reform politics itself somehow, convince people that it isn't American Idol or the World Series, or the ruling class will always be able to afford to put on a show whenever they need to manipulate the folks and the folks will probably fall for it.


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