California voters have managed to dodge reality for a long, long time. They insist on a lot of state services; they insist on artificially low taxes. And they have used the state’s overly lax voter-referendum system to get both.
Now it’s about to end. The state faces a $21 billion deficit, it has basically maxed out on its debt load and yesterday voters rejected a hodgepodge of ballot questions that would have allowed the charade to continue a little bit longer.
The Terminator says he has received his orders and is ready to act:
“Saying California voters delivered a message to “go all out” in cutting government spending, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday promised to whack $21.3 billion out of the state’s budget, making severe reductions in education, health care and law enforcement.
“We tried to not make those kind of cuts, but now we have to,” the Republican governor told reporters in Washington. “There’s no other choice. I think the message was clear from the people: Go all out and make those cuts and live within your means.”
Schwarzenegger thanked Californians for voting in Tuesday’s special election. They rejected ballot measures endorsed by the governor that would have reduced the cuts to $15 billion. And the governor said the message was “very loud and clear.”
“And you know something? I appreciate that,” Schwarzenegger said. “When you hear that from the people, then it gives us a chance to go and adjust and say, ‘OK, we went the wrong direction. Now let’s go in the right direction. Let’s go do what the people want.’”
That’s exactly right. California officials should produce and pass the budget that the voters are willing to support with their taxes. If the subsequent pain is too great, maybe they’ll support higher taxes to pay for the things they want. On the other hand, if they find the pain is tolerable, that’s fine too.
As another story quoted Arnold:
“When you ask them about the cuts, ‘Do you mind of we have to make an additional $6 billion in cuts?’ and — it’s great — they say, ‘No, no, no, no, no, not in education.’ And we say, ‘How about in health care?’ and they say, “No, I wouldn’t go after the vulnerable citizens,’ then we say, ‘Well, then we have to make some cuts in law enforcement,’ and they say, ‘Law enforcement, I want to keep that in place.’ People don’t know themselves where they want to cut, they just say, ‘Make the cuts’ and ‘You figure it out.’”
And yes, there may very well be a similar day of reckoning coming at the federal level, with its arrival accelerated by the Great Recession. Federal revenue has fallen, and federal spending has surged in a necessary but temporary effort to keep the economy on its feet.
Further on down the road, Washington will also have some tough decisions to make about bringing revenue and spending at least somewhat into balance. Those decisions may be informed by what happens in California in the next few years.