The other morning, there was an intriguing headline slapped over a story on Flashreport, the conservative web site run by our favorite knuckle-dragging blogger and Republican operative, Jon Fleischman.
The actual article, from Sign On San Diego, was an interesting yarn about Arnold Schwarznegger’s utter failure to abolish a host of government commissions, despite famously boasting that he would “blow up boxes” within state government.
The bright red overline with which Fleischman festooned the piece, however, had nothing directly to do with its content but everything to do with his latest hobbyhorse, the GOP effort to prevent voters from getting to decide for themselves whether to back Jerry Brown’s tax plan to help balance the budget:
“Yet another reasons (sic) why we shouldn’t put taxes on the ballot,” his hed read.
Our key question about this: Huh?
The Flash’s editorial attempt to jam a square peg in a round hole (or, as we inelegantly used to say on the city desk, to stuff three pounds of shit in a two-pound bag) reflects an anxious political calculation by right-wing legislators and allied anti-tax, anti-government crusaders that they don’t dare allow a popular vote to determine whether Brown’s half-cuts, half-taxes deficit plan should be implemented.
Seemingly fearful that their arguments on the merits would not prevail in a statewide election test, they instead reserve to themselves the right to forbid ordinary people from having a decisive say about a momentous policy question that will shape the future of California.
Like a small band of feudal lords, they seek to dictate to the vassals and serfs what the shape and size of the state’s political and economic landscape shall be, placing their highest priority not on the will of the people, but on their own power, exercised through the tyranny of a tiny minority.
In this, these tinhorn barons and viscounts are assisted by yeomen and henchmen like Fleischman* and the Washington-based nihilist Grover (“drown it in the bathtub”) Norquist, who darkly threaten with political annihilation any independent-minded Republican who might be inclined to provide Brown one of the handful of votes he needs to put his crucial tax proposal on the June ballot.**
It must be noted that a few thoughtful Republicans, represented by the erudite Tony Quinn, applaud the notion of an election on the budget issue as a bracing and clarifying exercise in direct democracy.
But as we’ve pointed out here and here, the stubborn unwillingness of the Armies of Howard to hear the people’s voice on Brown’s proposal truly is confounding; after all, the Coupal-Fleischman-Fox cabal never tires of hectoring us about their categorical certainty that all right-thinking people hate all taxes always, period, paragraph, end of story.
If that’s true, then why miss the chance to prove it, once and for all, and deal Brown and his allies an early, crushing defeat that will not only inflict a severe blow on his governorship but also mortally wound the public education system, medical and social services they apparently despise? ***
The answer, of course, is that Brown’s tax measure, which calls for extending for five years $12 billion in temporary higher tax rates passed two years ago, is only one piece, albeit a determinative one, of a more complicated fiscal prescription.
It also includes a dramatic realignment plan for state and local governments, as well as $12 billion in cuts that not even his testosterone-soaked Republican predecessor had the cojones to propose - a total package that the new/old governor might actually have the political skill to explain effectively to voters, despite its enormous complexity. As we argued earlier:
Local officials with the power to determine levels of service — based on local support – will finally, and properly, have the tools to make some tough decisions about local programs and pensions – while also facing the up-close-and-personal political consequences of making them.
And when the drown-the-baby-in-the-bathtub anti-government types scream about all this, proponents can reply: We’re for democracy and for empowering local government. It’s the other guys who are for keeping all the power up in Sacramento and in smoke-filled back rooms where THEY have power. We want to return power to the people, to local communities, where you can keep an eye on how money is spent and for what.
Beyond this scenario, scary to the Norquists of the world, whose personal livelihoods depend on convincing people that government never does anything good, lies the demonstrable fact that a large majority of Californians haven’t even noticed the allegedly ruinous tax increases they keep blathering about:
Interestingly, only 36% of voters – 30% of Democrats, 47% of Republicans and 21% of independents – were even aware that $8 billion in temporary tax increases were enacted in 2009. Nearly two thirds of the voters – 64% — did not know that taxes had been raised.
More: A solid majority of voters currently supports extending the taxes to avoid deeper budget cuts – although people also want to be convinced they’ll get good value for their money, precisely the assurance Brown stands prepared to try to deliver and demonstrate to them. To quote ourselves:
So there you have the battle lines: One side will argue that Brown’s plan isn’t a plan at all and that it will raise taxes to keep bloated government in Sacramento. The other side will argue that Brown and the Legislature have a plan and that they’re seeking a temporary extension of current taxes in order to streamline government in Sacramento.
It’s all about whose message is more compelling and believable, whose is better framed and delivered.
Bottom line: The no-tax amen corner over at Flashreport is just too chicken to have that argument. Cluck, cluck.
*Steve Harmon did a terrific job of undercutting Fleischman’s claim that his band of right-wingers effectively punished Republican office holders who voted for taxes the last time around.
** Quinn and Dan Walters both have posited possible alternative pathways to the ballot for Brown’s proposal.
*** Peter Schrag provides a factual look, complete with Actual Reporting, at what an all-cuts deficit plan would look like.