Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the state of California is scrambling to fix its budget problems. I live in California, and it’s easy to blame the Governor, or the state legislature for our woes, but really, I think they are simply victims and caught in the middle of what the real cause of our problems is: us.
By which I mean the voters. As an almost too perfect example, I refer you to Proposition 1A, passed last November, a ballot measure that proposed building a high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco, at a cost of nearly $10 billion.
To put it bluntly, we don’t need it. But we passed it and it we now have to borrow $10 billion (because people don’t want their taxes raised) to pay for it. How do I know we don’t need it? Because it isn’t being built already by private industry.
You see, if a high-speed train were really needed, there would be demand for it. If there’s demand for it an investor, or group of investors, will see the opportunity, come in, and fund the project with their own money. That isn’t happening, thus we don’t need it (mostly because of that wonderful new invention call the automobile. And also the airplane).
But the worst part is that they are raising bonds to pay for it, rather than raising taxes. That means the state is going into more debt, and getting further away from a balanced budget. Of course, some might say that the debt will be paid off by passenger fares, but since it’s not needed, who’s going to be riding the train and paying the fare?
To me, it’s like a kid with a credit card thinking “I can buy all this stuff and not pay for it! Hurray!” It’s completely fiscally irresponsible and it’s 100% the people of California’s fault, not the government’s (well, I voted against it because of this, so it’s not my fault). And this is something that can’t be cut from the budget, since it was approved by voters. It would be illegal to remove it. The state of California now must build a high-speed train for $10 billion.
So why is it like this? Why do the people have so much power over the state’s financial affairs? Mostly it has to do with the period when California was first organized into a state, called the Progressive Era. Then, there was widespread distrust of government (much like today) and it was thought that it would be better to put a lot more power into the hands of the people instead of the government. Now, I know too much government power is a bad thing, but too much “people power” can be a very bad thing. Simply because people just don’t have the training and discipline to deal with political and fiscal issues. That’s why we vote people who are trained (ideally) into office. I mean, the voters can amend the state constitution by ballot measure. That’s what Proposition 8 was, which banned same-sex marriage. It is now not just illegal but unconstitutional for any government agency in California to recognize a same-sex marriage.
Perhaps dissolving the state government and drafting a new constitution wouldn’t be such a bad idea.