California's Deficit and Budget Crisis
By Robert Garmong (Mountain Mail, August 4, 2003; The Powerhouse, October 10, 2003)
The California legislature's "solution" to the state budget crisis reeks with evasiveness and self-contradiction. Pretending that they were not raising taxes, the Assembly in fact raised automobile taxes around $5 billion. Pretending to leave local governments' tax revenues untouched, the Assembly in fact pilfered $2.5 billion (to be made up, supposedly, with unspecified future spending cuts). Worst of all, while pretending to solve the budget crisis, the Assembly in fact borrowed its way out of it, leaving an eight billion dollar deficit to deal with next fiscal year.
The reason for all this sleight-of-hand is that the state budget is an attempt to evade the existence of a contradiction, a contradiction neither Republicans nor Democrats have the moral courage to acknowledge.
On the one hand, there is the premise of the welfare state, which demands that the government act as a socialist re-distributor of wealth, taxing the "haves" in order to dole out freebies to the "have-nots." On this premise if someone has a need he cannot meet, the state must provide for it.
On the other hand, there is the original American premise of property rights, which assumes that no one--"not god nor society"--may deprive a man of the fruits of his labor. This premise is at least partly recognized in our hostility to new taxes. The contradiction between these two premises creates a public that demands ever more social spending, but rejects any attempt to raise their taxes.
By refusing to address this contradiction, and instead putting bandages over its effects, California's Assembly has merely prolonged the crisis and worsened the disaster that will occur when we can no longer put off the decision between respecting the individual's right to keep the results of his labor, and considering it the property of society, to be redistributed at the whim of lawmakers.