Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Magic Kingdom

It's fitting that Disneyland was created in California.

It's fitting because we now have two branches of state government that live inside the Magic Kingdom of the late 1950's - in two "lands" far away from reality. The Governor's Office has been relocated to Fantasyland. The Legislature has relocated to Tomorrowland.

Way too many of the voters of California also live inside the Magic Kingdom - in three radically different worlds far away from reality and incomprehensible to each other.

Some live in Main Street USA, a fictional early 20th century Midwest town totally without a corresponding community reality in 21st Century California.

Some live in Frontierland hoping to confront the challenges of the 21st Century with a muzzle loading rifle while wearing a coonskin cap - a reality that never existed in California even when Ronald Reagan was Governor.

Some live in Adventureland where crocodiles, hippos, and other "African Queen" dangers, completely foreign to and absent from 21st Century California, fill people with fear and consume tremendous amounts of their psychological energy.

We have a Governor - well, the Gubernator - who has proposed in his final budget to completely dismantle all care for low income children and the elderly. He has a reason. The State Government figuratively went bankrupt during his administration. He's opposed to tax increases or new taxes to fix things. So he proposes to dump off the increased cost of medical care for the kids of the underemployed and unemployed and for old people whose retirement nest egg went the way of the State's employees retirement funds.

In the meantime, two Republicans, people you might otherwise think are rational, want to become Governor in this situation, a situation that will be worse in 2011 and 2012. Like the Gubernator they have ideas about the budget. Unlike the Gubernator, between them they will have spent over $100 million on the primary election campaign, just to get nominated to run against Jerry Brown, the de facto Democratic candidate.

The candidate spending the most money is Meg Whitman. She has roughly the same understanding of Government as the Gubernator did when he was elected. She proposes to fix the State's problems by managing better. You know. Like she did as CEO of Ebay. Apparently, she doesn't understand that in California the Governor has clear authority over the employees in the Governor's Office, and no others. Apparently she doesn't understand that in California the Governor proposes a budget while the Legislature prepares and adopts one, if the leaders can find support from 's of the 80 members members of the Assembly and from 's of the 40 members members of the Senate.

Jerry Brown, of course, was the guy who started California down the road to bankruptcy when he was previously Governor and was dubbed Governor Moonbeam. I guess he thinks he can fix the problems he created.

Now let us move from Fantasyland where Governors and would-be Governors live, to Tomorrowland where the Legislature lives. In this Tomorrowland, if Californians can just get through until tomorrow, everything will be fine. So the Legislature has developed budgets for the last two fiscal years that basically have borrowed against tomorrow's wished-for economic boom to get us through, until tomorrow.

This year the Legislative leaders propose to borrow $9 billion from Wall Street to avoid drastic social service cuts. From the Sacramento Bee we learn:

To pay back the nearly $9 billion loan, Democrats propose ostensibly using container recycling deposits that consumers pay on beverages they consume. But that would cost the beverage recycling fund around $600 million annually, so Democrats propose a new tax on oil production to backfill the recycling fund each year.

In another twist, Democrats want to pass their oil production tax with only a majority vote, using various sales tax shifts to get around the state's two-thirds vote requirement.

They said their proposal not only would avoid cuts but reduce fee hikes at universities and give $900 million in new money to local governments.

But Assembly Democrats offered no projections for what would happen in future years, when the state would not have access to the same influx of money. Because their plan would sustain spending at higher levels, the state likely would have to make deeper cuts in later years unless the economy roars back or lawmakers find another multibillion-dollar source.

To add to this weird borrow from tomorrow vision, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg proposes to shift many social services programs to the counties. Today, of course, the state's counties are each trying to figure out how to cut millions from expenditures by July 1 without further gutting county operations to the point they are meaningless, particularly sheriff departments. Again, to quote the Sacramento Bee:

Steinberg said he's identified some of the kinds of social programs that could be shifted more to counties – senior care and children's services among them – but has no details to disclose less than three weeks from the Legislature's June 15 deadline to approve a budget.

One has to admire a vision of how one could believe this might possibly work - tomorrow.

In the meantime, many of the legislators who have sat through a few budget battle years are "termed-out" and will be replaced in January mostly by folks who have no idea how California's Government really operates. The rest are hoping to survive the election - to be there tomorrow.

We all should marvel at the potential of knowing we could have a Governor in Fantasyland who thinks she is going to be the State's CEO and new legislators in Tomorrowland who are equally ignorant in thinking something can be done, tomorrow, by the Legislature, about California's figurative bankruptcy.

On June 8, the George Bailey's, Davy Crockett's, and the Rosie Sayer's will cast their votes to determine ... who they will be able to cast their votes for on November 2. This is so that in January everyone can continue to live inside the Magic Kingdom happily ever after.

Except for a few pesky problems out there in surrounding "realityland" which threaten to darken the Magic Kingdom amusement park. We'll look at those problems next time.

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