CALIFORNIA MIRACLE DIET

Posted in Rants on July 30th, 2009 by Ed

I gained about 20 pounds while taking my qualifying field exams three years ago. It took me all of three months to gain it yet for the last three years I've been trying to lose it with zero success. The fact that weight is infinitely easier to gain than it is to lose, combined with the fact that the most attractive people are often the least interesting, is the surest indicator that life simply isn't fair. In an ideal world every journey would be on level ground, but when it comes to our metabolism the process of getting fatter is downhill while getting thinner is uphill. Up an icy hill. Into a tornado.

We have no control over these facts of life, so all we can do is lament them. In the political world, however, we do have control over a lot of things. Californians, if I can run with the analogy, have binged themselves into budgetary oblivion and are now resorting to drastic procedures to combat the reality that it is far easier to fuck up a government's financial health than it is to unfuck it. If the average state's unhealthy financial position today is like a person with 10 or 20 unwanted pounds, California is bedridden, weighs half a ton, and waits patiently for firemen to knock out the bedroom wall and remove him with a crane.

As medical professionals have to resort to dramatic and often risky procedures to treat a person who is 600 pounds overweight, California has been self-administering some radical surgeries lately, whether sending out IOUs instead of checks, wantonly hacking things out of the budget, getting its bond rating downgraded to near junk, jacking up tuitions while slashing education spending, or engaging in waves of mandatory furloughs. And of course none of it is enough. The depressed global and national economy is going to exert significant downward pressure on the state's income and property tax reciepts next year, meaning that whatever gap-fix solution presented today is likely to leave the state in the exact same situation next summer.

How did things get so bad? Well, the state made it easier for itself to get fat than to lose weight. In 1978 voters passed Proposition 13 which required a 2/3 majority in the legislature to impose new taxes or raise existing ones. No one, of course, was smart enough to realize what would happen if the opposite – a 2/3 majority required to cut taxes – was not also imposed. Combined with other portions of the law which limit property tax assessments to 1% of total property value, Prop 13 greased the skids for California to binge on tax cuts while making it difficult and painful to raise taxes. It's a complex situation with many causes, but the impact of the "tax revolt" can't be overstated.

Orange County, birthplace of the "tax revolt" (along with the subdivision, the strip mall, and the eponymous and christ-awful TV show), went bankrupt in 1994. It remains the largest Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy in the nation's history, and the final nail in its coffin was the rejection by voters of a 1991 ballot proposition to raise sales taxes by half a fucking cent to pay for county courts and jails (you know, to handle that War on Drugs of which Orange County's meatheaded legions were the most fervent supporters).

The only options at this point are painful budget cuts or painful (and nearly impossible to achieve) tax increases. When the budget is finally pared down to the point at which the state's voters can tolerate no further cuts in education, services, and policing, maybe they will have learned enough to revisit the wisdom of their 1978 decision to make slashing taxes as easy and mindless for the legislature as wolfing down the entire damn bag of chips while staring at the TV is for us.