Thursday, February 19, 2009

At Last!

Well, it looks like we have a budget. By “we” I mean California which I feel a kinship for even though I don’t vote there anymore. It’s a very painful budget, but a budget, nonetheless. And that’s a good thing. I drove cab in SacTown during the budget crises in the early 90s and it totally shut us down. I understand that state workers will still have one furlough day a month, and will end up with about a 4% pay cut, which is better than the 10% they were facing, but a pay cut at any time is scary.

I would just like to say that State Senator Able Maldonado meets my definition of a statesman. He was the “last republican.” For days the legislature had been one republican vote shy of passing a budget. Maldonado, from Santa Maria, finally stepped up to the plate. He is a hero. He put the good of the state over party politics. Some people in Washington could learn from him. He also made a deal that some Republicans can support: one of his demands was that the state scrap a proposed .12 cent per gallon hike in the gas tax. That alone could save his job.

But maybe not. “I know there will be dire political ramifications for me,” he said, “but I know the ramifications for the people of California would be more dire.”

Those ramifications are that he will face a furious republican party and, worse yet, a furious conservative media. One thing this crisis proved was the power of conservative talk radio. For months Republican legislators have been quaking in their boots lest the make a legion of wannabe Rush Limbaugh’s mad at them. Sitting in their hermetically sealed broadcast booths, spouting out their foul vitriol, they have held California hostage for three months. The “no new taxes” mantra, long ago proven to be worthless in a time of crisis, has become not merely an idea or a policy but a sword of Damocles. Republican legislators know that breaking the no-tax Dogma got Bush 41 kicked out of office. They know that the average middle class Californian conservative cares more about filling up the SUV than he does about the roads he drives on (or the schools his kids go to, and who needs beaches, parks, prisons, cops or firemen anyway?). And he knows it is easy to get people whipped into a frenzy by appealing to their pocket books. So when conservative radio hosts promise to launch recall efforts against anyone who supports any form of new taxes, it leads to a lot of panicked Republican state senators and a lot of really bad public policy. The budget couldn’t be closed without taxes. The governor pointed out months ago: the math just isn’t there. Democrats were willing to compromise from the word go. But Republicans, some out of ideology and some out of fear, were willing to bankrupt the state, put thousands of people out of work, cause billions of dollars in shut-down costs for roads projects, put peoples lives and property in danger, and basically sell the state down the road toward Armageddon, all for the sake of a political ideal which pretends beyond hope or rationality that the answer to any problem is “no taxes.”

The republicans who held up the budget need to learn what it means to be statesmen.

The talk radio hosts who held them at gunpoint need to be run out of the state on a rail. Or at the very least not listened to.


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