Saturday, February 26, 2011

California Is Definitely Not Wisconsin

While Wisconsin gets ever closer to fiscal responsibility through its courageous elected Republican governor and legislature, California's governor makes a few dainty cuts around the edges of the state's monumental debt then proposes to put his so-called barebones budget on the ballot. Of course he hasn't even put the proposed budget together, and seems unwilling to act with the legislature to implement the changes recommended by the state's standing fiscal watchdog commission.

The people elect their representatives to carry out the broad wishes of the public, but leave the details to the "professionals" they hired to do the job. California's referendum process has for decades been the escape vehicle for elected officials unable or unwilling to do the tough jobs they were hired to do. They can talk about lofty goals, tightening the government belt, and serious budget cuts, but when it comes time to do what is necessary, they love to kick the ball back to the people. That way, if the solution doesn't work, they can blame everybody but themselves. If the solution does work, they can claim to have been prescient in forming the solution, and "men of the people" by giving the public the right to make the decision.

The referendum is one of those goofy procedures invented by the Progressives back in the Roaring Twenties to emulate direct democracy. But that doesn't mean that it works the same way in each of the states that adopted it. Wisconsin, the first Progressive state, hired a governor and a legislature last November to fix their financial problems and it looks as if that will happen. No referendum there. Californians also elected a governor and a legislature, and now the people are being asked to perform surgery on themselves because the doctors in Sacramento are too stupid or too cowardly to do it for them.

What's the big difference between the two states which both have strong Progressive pasts? Easy. Wisconsin voters elected a Republican governor and a majority Republican legislature. California elected Democrats for the corresponding posts. In order to do their jobs, they could either make draconian cuts in spending for state employees and terminate pie-in-the-sky green/liberal/leftist/cuckoo programs, or wet their pants and send it all back to the voters. The Wisconsin temporary stalemate can't happen in California since the Democrats hold the State House and both legislative chambers, and therefore fleeing to a Motel 6 in Arizona isn't a viable plan.

So Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown and his fellow Democrats dither while California drowns. California has a standing independent citizen fiscal watchdog commission called The Little Hoover Commission. It makes recommendations to the governor and the legislature on the state's budgets. Since about the time that Jerry Brown's chief aide Gray Davis became governor (and got recalled), spendthrift commission members from both parties have merrily wandered down the primrose path with the tax and spend liberals. The commission is comprised of nine members--five appointed by the governor, two by the State Assembly and two by the State Senate. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an alleged Republican, held onto office long enough to have appointed all five of the gubernatorial seats. Three are fiscal conservatives from before Schwarzenegger discovered he was sleeping with a liberal Democrat. The other two are moderate to liberal on tax and spend. Needless to say, the other four members are all liberal to very liberal Democrats.

The crash has hit California extremely hard, and despite its former liberal tilt, the commission found that California's fiscal crisis has many of the same root causes as those of Wisconsin. So it has proposed huge changes to the state's employee pay, benefits and retirement scales. It includes freezing the current plan while creating a sustainable alternative plan. The plan includes specifically capping the calculation of benefits at between $80,000 and $90,000, creating retirement ages and lengths of service which do not encourage early retirement, and requiring employees to pay meaningful contributions to their own retirement.

Said the commission report: "The situation is dire, and the menu of proposed changes that include increasing contributions and introducing a second tier of benefits for new employees will not be enough to reduce unfunded liabilities to manageable levels, particularly for county and city pension plans. The only way to manage the growing size of California government's growing liabilities is to address the cost of future, unearned benefits to current employees, which at current levels is unsustainable."

That means that even the proposals made for future entrants into the public employment sphere will not be enough, and that the governor and the legislature need to take current benefits head-on. But you must remember that the governor is a Democrat, bought and paid for by the unions, particularly the public employee unions and the SEIU. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any real changes will be made without a referendum, and unlike Wisconsin, right-to-work will never be put on the table.

Rather than analyze and tweak the commission recommendations, the Democrats immediately went into attack mode. Democratic spokesman Steve Maviglio was first at bat, saying "Shocker. Little Hoover Commission stacked with Schwarzenegger appointees wants to cut economic security of civil servants." Well, they aren't very civil, and they serve nobody but themselves. Further, if "economic security" means getting cushy jobs at outrageous rates of pay and catastrophic medical and retirement benefits, I suppose they're right. But if "economic security" means a decent job with decent pay and benefits combined with Civil Service protection, they're wrong and they're lying.

Unlike Wisconsin, California's seminal problem will not be solved any time in the foreseeable future. And that problem is the incestuous relationship of public sector unions and state government. The closest thing to agreement on changes from Governor Brown is that he says "I believe people should be working longer. I think 'institutional memory' is a good thing (and a typical "Brownism"--most of us would have said 'experience'). I don't have a problem extending how long people have to work." That addresses Brown's belief in government, not in reasonable compensation. And it's understandable. Brown was first elected three and a half decades ago as the youngest elected governor in the state's history, and was elected last year as the state's oldest governor. He has spent his entire life in government (including his youth at his father's home, former California Attorney General and Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown).

The official spokesmen for the Brown administration were a bit more restrained, and devious, in their comments about the Little Hoover Commission's report. "Our office is reviewing the Little Hoover Commission's findings. The Governor agrees that California faces serious challenges which is why he rolled out a comprehensive framework to reform pensions during his campaign." Well that's nice. A nebulous "framework." They're "reviewing" the findings. The governor "agrees" that there are serious challenges. But--action is noticeably lacking. And when the bankruptcy clock is close to running out, Brown and the Democrats will punt.


Tennessee Jed said...

the more you tell me about the golden state, the less I like it, Hawk. Still, BOTH Wisonsin AND Kahleefourneeyah have cool cows, who, we presume produce cheese AND contribute to the so called "global warming" problem.

I agree referendums is not really a good way to go. Representative democratically elected republics are.

T_Rav said...

California: Further proof of Jay Leno's dictum, "You get the government you deserve."

Unknown said...

Tennessee: As long as I have my little mountain greenery home and a clear shot at the revenooers, I'm happy here. Our cows are better than Wisconsin's, but Wisconsin's cows don't make you buy them dinner and drinks before you milk them. I'm still learning the country jargon. I tried to get the big bull to take his girls farther down on the property so they wouldn't wouldn't knock over my plants and leave cow pies by the back door. My daughter told me that it works better if I don't call him Mr. Cow. LOL But at least now I have Niko the Wonder Pup to herd them away from the house.

Initiatives and referendums are ideas that look good on paper but don't often work well in practice. But some do. Prop 13 back in the 70s froze the burgeoning increase in property tax rate increases and kept our overall taxes reasonable for nearly a decade. But legislators being the creative critters they are found ways around it. Prop 8 put California right in the crosshairs of the anti-religion, pro-gay marriage forces. But even Prop 8 was the reaction to an imperial judiciary that suddenly found a gay marriage right in the California Constitution.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I resent that remark. I don't deny it, but I do resent it. LOL

T_Rav said...

LawHawk, if it helps, we have Obama shill Claire McCaskill as our senator, so we're not much better off. (We did vote down ObamaCare, though.)

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I'll call your Claire McCaskill and raise you a Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. You Missourians are amateurs at electing the wrong Senators at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. Voting down Obamacare is a very big deal, and you can bet your bottom dollar it will never happen in California. On the other hand, I spent the longest year of my life one weekend in Springfield, Missouri. LOL

T_Rav said...

In Springfield? Nice town, but how a weekend there could have so much importance attached to it is beyond me. Unless you got mesmerized by the wonder that is Bass Pro Shop, then I could understand it.

Unknown said...

T_Rav: I was hurrying back to California after my sojourn in New York City at NYU. My Austin-Healey broke down just outside Springfield, under a sign that said "Welcome to Springfield, Heart of the Ozarks." That wasn't exactly this city boy's idea of heaven. I was still a poor student on a very tight budget. So after hitching a ride into town, I found a motel I could afford. It was located between two culinary landmarks--Hog Heaven Pork Palace and Roy Rogers Roast Beef. The people at the garage were very nice, but I'd have to stay the weekend because they had to wait for the replacement part to be floated down (up?) the river from St. Louis. TV was nearly nonexistent, and the radio played country music on every station that wasn't broadcasting radio evangelists. It probably didn't help that the car had San Francisco license frames.

Joel Farnham said...


I didn't expect much from this last election in California. I do believe that, along with Nevada, elections were not entirely honest.

Evidently in California, Nevada and a few other spots in America, people are okay with that.

California Politics has always been a little screwy. And for many years, the nation mimicked California. Now, that the adolescent infatuation with California is over, the rest of the nation is doing it's level best to get back to a form of sanity that it recognizable.

I have family in California. I don't hope California fails, but I suspect it will. When it does, and probably only then, the people of California will grow up and elect people who are adults. Not adolescent has-beens and never-weres.

Unknown said...

Joel: That's a pretty accurate assessment of California voters. We have the additional problem of a huge population of Mexican immigrants (legal and legal) who come from a nation that has no experience with true self-government or free market capitalism. As a result we have an additional problem of a large part of the population which can't get jobs, are poorly-educated, barely conversant in the English language, and immediately eligible for the largess of the Democratic Party. That is not an indictment of Mexicans (my lifelong best friend and both my sons-in-law are of Mexican descent), it's an indictment of unrestricted immigration. Combine ivory tower limousine liberalism with large pockets of endemic poverty and you have a recipe for fiscal disaster that only adds to the immense budget deficits. A complete collapse may actually be the only thing that will bring Californians to their senses.

Joel Farnham said...


What is bad, is that California might take the rest of the nation if/when it fails. It still has the largest economy in the US, somewhat diminished because of the flight of businesses.

Unknown said...

Joel: That is certainly one possible scenario. Particularly now, the federal government is in far too bad a shape to bail California out. We may have to find out if bankruptcy reorganization is even possible for a state, and if so, whether California can get itself out of its mess with the help of receivers and trustees in bankruptcy. It's not as if California doesn't have the facilities and natural resources to recover, absent the guidance of blind captains driving the ship onto the shoals.

AndrewPrice said...

I've said it before and I will say it again, build a wall around the state (or at least the big liberal cities) and let's leave them to experience the full satisfaction that comes with being smug liberals. And let the rest of us move on without them.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Who is this "them" of whom you speak? Could you at least build a tunnel from my place to free America so I can move about? The Central Valley is about as different from the rest of California as Arizona is from New York. We're just outnumbered. Help!

Joel Farnham said...

Andrew and LawHawk,

While I like the idea of a wall, I don't know if we could create one effective enough to stop the liberals from leaving the cities.

We are having a tough time creating one for our southern border as it is.

Unknown said...

Joel: And while Andrew is busy laughing at me, I'm snickering up my sleeve at the number of yuppies and green weenies who have fled the mess they helped create and headed for the Rocky Mountain High, Colorado. They looked, they saw, they liked, and have promptly started to fundamentally transform it into the same hole they left behind in California.

StanH said...

It would seem CA’s referendum process is a de-facto presidential commission in Washington - - Kabuki Theater for the sheeple. Moonbeam being an experienced politician, or flim-flam man, you choose, …knows when faced with an intractable situation, obfuscate, it’s time for the political con job, the referendum.

God bless you Lawhawk, your state is in one hell of a mess.

Unknown said...

Stan: I'm turning into Pollyanna on occasion. I keep thinking of my relatives on my father's side of the family in East Germany who never gave up the idea that someday the government would collapse, the Stasi would look the other way, and the Wall would fall. They never gave up hope of joining with their democratic brethren in the West. I feel the same way about California.

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