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Christopher Bradley

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Votin' Time Blues Redux [May. 18th, 2009|11:10 am]
Christopher Bradley
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In my last post, athelind asked me to sum up my thoughts on the ballot measures, as he's a fellow Californian and this stuff is of interest to him, too. So I did! However, it was several hundred words over the allowed length of responses, so I'm posting it here, instead.

Oh, I didn't take it as challenging. I know that you're a contentious guy, Athe. I'm going to start off the top of my head with the real obvious stuff. And maybe explaining it to you will help me sort it out. And, of course, this is a lot of interpretation. It's a lot of my opinion, and things seen through the lenses of my own biases which most people think are pretty far out there. ;)

But you're right. The devil's in the details with this kind of crap.

1A. The stabilization fund measure is to be funded by temporary tax increases in sales, use and vehicle taxes. All of these tax types are regressive because they represent proportionally larger expenditures from the poor than the rich. A couple of hundred bucks in additional taxes to a person with assets of a billion dollars is nothing - but to a person on the edge, it's the difference between paying several bills a year.

Some people have also said that it's a right-wing attempt to further cripple California's spending. It essentially mandates certain expenditures into the BSF which are blind of other financial considerations - it is seen by these people as an attempt to further cripple the California government's ability to make budgets at all. There might be some truth to that, or even discounting the leftist conspiracy theory angle it's what might actually happen. Funding restrictions do tie people's hands when drafting emergency budgets. That's not my primary concern, though I am aware of it and it sometimes worries me.

1B. This is an extension of 1A and draws from the same regressive tax sources. Funding-wise, it extends the taxes of 1A to cover additional funds for community colleges and schools. Additionally, for this one to work, 1A has to pass, so it's here where the "holding the most vulnerable members of society hostage" really picks up. Even if you don't care about the BSF, you've got to fund that to fund this.

1C. This is the easiest one. I'm not a fan of lotteries for a whole lot of reasons, but they're pretty regressive and they're also gambling. It's regressive because millionaires don't play the lottery - it is designed to take advantage of poor people's hopes and desperation. Which I think stinks. State lotteries are callous attempts by the state to capitalize on poverty by tricking the poor into shouldering a bigger share of the budget through psychological manipulation. So any extension of the lottery I feel is both regressive and manipulative.

But even beyond my feelings about lotteries, what it does is allow the state to borrow money against future lottery revenues. It's a way to justify increased deficit spending but it's a financial dodge because money is largely fungible - in the end, all it does is increase debt without increasing revenue, but ties a certain amount of debt to the regressive lottery income stream.

Now for the easy ones. ;)

1D. What this prop does is kill First Five funding for five years. This isn't a tax increase, it's just a budget cut that targets poor children specifically. This one is, IMO, a no brainer. It kills spending on poor kids, health stuff mostly, as a simple budget cut. It's loathsome. Also regressive, but so obviously evil that calling it merely "regressive" seems inappropriate. It's just taking food out of baby's mouths.

1E. This one is also just plain evil. It gets rid of a 1% income tax on incomes over $1,000,000 that is presently going to fund the Mental Health Services Act. This is just a flat tax cut that defunds services to the mentally ill to give millionaires a tax break.

1F. This is mostly beneath my notice. This is the kind of feel good legislation that is financially meaningless - and it is meaningless. The best case scenario is they'll just give themselves somewhat bigger raises during those years there's a positive balance in the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties. More likely, they'll just start giving themselves increases in non-salaried compensation - like their per diem (which is $170/day) or other perks and benefits that aren't strictly income. It's already hard enough to figure out how much these cats are making without stuff like this to cloud the issue . . . but it's mostly irrelevant.

So, in retrospect, I am probably just angsting over 1A, 1B and 1C. They're regressive attempts to push more of the tax burden onto the poor. I'll also point out in the last budget, while the state is $42 billion in the red, somehow rich people still got $800 million in tax cuts.

I hope this helps!