Saturday, November 6, 2010

California Voters Extend Citizens Redistricting Commission

California is notorious for non-competitive electoral districts for the State Assembly, State Senate, and U.S. House of Representatives. Each district is designed to maximize the incumbent's chance of re-election. Almost all districts are currently designed to be either heavily loaded with Democratic Party voters, or with Republican Party voters.

In 2008 California voters passed Proposition 11, which established a Citizens Redistricting Commission to redraw the Assembly and Senate district boundaries after the results of the 2010 census come in. Otherwise the state legislature would have redrawn the districts, thus allowing each elected official to have a say in their own district's boundaries. Both the Democratic Party and Republican Party apparatus opposed Proposition 11, making its passage a landmark along the path of California voters to independence from these two ancient, corrupt, federal parties.

In the November 2, 2010 election two related propositions were on the ballot. Proposition 20, in passing, extended the authority of the Citizen's Redistricting Commission. Proposition 27 would overturn Proposition 11, returning redistricting power to the very legislators whose districts are to be redrawn.

With the votes tallied as of today, the results were:

Yes Votes
No Votes
Proposition 20
Proposition 27

I interpret this as a dramatic victory for democracy. A substantial number of citizens saw the need for a redistricting system that is designed for the good of the citizens, not the good of politicians.

That said, I don't see anything wrong with arguing about some of the particulars of the original Proposition 11. Hopefully, however, the experiment will go well. Then we, those California citizens who can put partisanship aside in favor of the general good, might make some improvements in the system for the round of redisticting that begins in 2020.

Be sure to visit for more about issues important to democratic government in California and the United States.

Monday, October 18, 2010

California Government Sells People's Assets

The government of the State of California announced on Monday, October 11, 2010, that it was selling the following state assets to California First LLC, a company that seems to have been created specifically to bid on the buildings. The buildings sold include:

Attorney General Building, Sacramento
California Emergency Management Agency Building, Sacramento
Capitol Area East End Complex, Sacramento
Franchise Tax Board Complex, Sacramento
Department of Justice Building, Sacramento
San Francisco Civic Center, San Francisco
Elihu M. Harris Building, Oakland
Public Utilities Commission Building, San Francisco
Judge Joseph A. Rattigan Building, Santa Rosa
Ronald Reagan State Building, Los Angeles
Junipero Serra State Building, Los Angeles

The state government will lease back the buildings. In the long run this will cost the citizens of the state more money than keeping them would have. The money, $2.3 billion, will be used to cover about 10% of this year's budget "gap," the difference between revenues and tax receipts if the budget contained no new spending cuts or tax increases.

California's government holds a lot of assets in the name of the people. Why not sell most of them? The Chinese would probably be interested in our university system. We could sell our freeways to private investors, who could erect toll booths. Unfortunately some of our most prestigious parks, like Yosemite, are actually in federal hands.

Sell enough and we could lower taxes and raise pay for public employees (both public service union members and administrators). For two or three years. Don't want to sell them? Why not mortgage them?

Would a democracy really sell off the people's assets? The people would have to be really decadent. I do think some people who have made themselves dependent on the state would support any measure taken to keep the slop in their troughs. But most California citizens are not that stupid or lazy. The problem is the state is run by two minorities: public service employees unions, and large corporations. Each enlists allies during the elections. These two poles share only one common goal: getting other people, the ordinary non-corporate tax payers, to pay for their free lunches.

California needs a central political party, free from ties to the national Democratic and national Republican parties, to represent its ordinary citizens. Creating a political party, however, is no easy thing.

Meanwhile at the United States of America federal level, pressures to sell off assets are building. See Save America, Sell Alaska.

Along those same lines, maybe it is time to think of selling San Diego back to Mexico, unless the Chinese are willing to bid higher for it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

California November 2010 Propositions

The following very brief discussions, with recommendations, are preliminary. I hope to treat each proposition in more detail, and may change my recommendations on further consideration.

Proposition 19 Legalizes Marijuana Under California but Not Federal Law. Permits Local Governments to Regulate and Tax Commercial Production, Distribution, and Sale of Marijuana. Initiative Statute [link to full text of California Proposition 19]

Recommendation: YES

Comment: Marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, and so should be treated about the same way.

Proposition 20 Redistricting of Congressional Districts. Initiative Constitutional Amendment [link to full text of California Proposition 20]


Comment: The state legislature, currently responsible for drawing Congressional districts, has served only the incumbents and their political machines. Giving the job to an independent commission does not guarantee a better job will be done, but at least the opportunity should be there. No more gerrymanders, please!

Proposition 21 Establishes $18 Annual Vehicle License Surcharge to Help Fund State Parks and Wildlife Programs. Grants Surcharged Vehicles Free Admission to All State Parks. Initiative Statute. [link to full text of California Proposition 21]

Recommendation: YES

Comment: For me $18 a year more in car tax is not a big deal, but it could be for many Californians. I'd rather fund the parks by getting the U.S. military budget under control, but that is not an option.

Proposition 22 Prohibits the State From Borrowing or Taking Funds Used for Transportation, Redevelopment, or Local Government Projects and Services. Initiative Constitutional Amendment. [link to full text of California Proposition 22]


Comment: The California Legislature has enough trouble coming up with balanced budgets without more restrictions on how they can allocate the funds that are available. If you don't like the way the legislature allocates taxes and spending, vote out your incumbent.

Proposition 23 Suspends Implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB 32) Requiring Major Sources of Emissions to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions That Cause Global Warming, Until Unemployment Drops to 5.5 Percent or Less for Full Year. Initiative Statute. [link to full text of California Proposition 23]


Comment: I understand people's concern about the California economy, and the negative effects that high taxes and unecessary regulations can have. However, global warming is the mother of all storms coming right at us, and AB 32 should spur California to become an economic leader in this Age of Global Warming.

Proposition 24 Repeals Recent Legislation That Would Allow Businesses to Lower Their Tax Liability. Initiative Statute [link to full text of California Proposition 24]

Recommendation: YES

Comment: The legislation to be repealed was a corrupt deal. The pre-2008 rules for tax effects of business operating losses were reasonable and fair.

Proposition 25 Changes Legislative Vote Requirement to Pass Budget and Budget-Related Legislation from Two-Thirds to a Simple Majority. Retains Two-Thirds Vote Requirement for Taxes. Initiative Constitutional Amendment [link to full text of California Proposition 25]

Recommendation: YES

Comment: Everyone in the state needs budgets to be passed on time. Changing the budget vote to majority rule encourages, though it does not guarantee, a timely budget. With the majority party clearly in charge, it will be clearer who to blame when the tiny amount of work our legislators really need to get done fails to be completed on time.

Proposition 26 Requires That Certain State and Local Fees Be Approved by Two-Thirds Vote. Fees Include Those That Address Adverse Impacts on Society or the Environment Caused by the Fee-Payer’s Business. Initiative Constitutional Amendment [link to full text of California Proposition 26]

Recommendation: NO

Comment: Passing, or not passing, fees by a legislative majority is the only way to get things done. If you hate a fee, help defeat the incumbents who passed it.

Proposition 27 Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates Authority for Redistricting With Elected Representatives. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute [link to full text of California Proposition 27]

Recommendation: NO, NO, NO!

Comment: In local governments, elected officials are supposed to recuse themselves on votes where they have a self-interest. Elected officials are all very self-interested in the drawing of election districts. In the past the legislature has redistricted mainly to keep incumbents, or their political machines (now that there are term limits) in power. Keep the indpendent redistricting commission!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Californians Will Pay the War Tab

Who will pick up the tab? On the micro scale, everyone has experienced this question, typically at restaurants. In society, when services are given to the poor, the unfortunate, or even those who competently avoid taking responsibility for themselves, either donors pay or taxpayers pay the tab.

Then there is the War. Mostly in Afghanistan these days, but it could flare up any minute in Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Korea, etc. There are direct costs to the occupation of Afghanistan, and then there is the ongoing, bone-crushing cost of maintaining the U.S. military establishment as a whole. There is no doubt that U.S. taxpayers are picking up this tab. But taxpayers are a varied lot, and pay or evade a wide variety of taxes.

Yesterday's vote in the U.S. Senate on special funding for the occupation of Afghanistan illustrates some interesting shifts in the tab-picking-up dynamic. Some Senators in the Democratic Party and some Senators in the Republican Party voted against the funding. The Democratic Party naysayers want a timetable for withdrawal set. The Republican Party Nays had voted against the amendment to attach a withdrawal timetable for the bill. They voted against the bill itself because no provision was made to raise the money for it; it would add to the deficit. So they want the meal, They are worried about who will pay the tab.

American taxpayers have run up an enormous tab. It is called the National Debt. There is interest on the national debt, which itself makes up a big part of the Federal budget each year.

Back when the Dems were the outs and wanted to be voted in, they opposed the war as pointless. Now the leadership of the Dems, including the President, sound exactly like the leadership of the Republicans did just a few years ago. Only the Republicans, given their self-inflating, gun-toting constituency, can't oppose the war openly. There are no votes there. What they can do is point to the way the Democratic Majority is taking out a mortgage on America, at variable interest rates, with no ability to pay if either interest rates go up or the economy cycles back into recessionary mode.

Who will pay the tab? With the Democrats in power, the Republicans are worried that taxes on the "rich" will be raised. After all, you can't squeeze tax dollars out of income-less people living in Obama-villes. The rich already pay a lot of the tax burden, but they also get some pretty good breaks, like not paying taxes on capital gains until the capital is sold, which is typically only when they die. I would rather be rich and pay at higher tax rates, but once you are rich you get used to spending your money like anyone else. Higher taxes for the rich could mean waiting a year before buying a new Bentley, or taking a few days less vacation on the French Riviera, or having to fire one of the maids. That is the kind of irritant that makes rich people put pressure on their politicians.

You know how it goes. "Sure Bob, last year I raised $100,000 for your campaign, but then you raised taxes and now Sally Sue's vacation budget is $250,000 short."

In case you have not noticed, in Democratic majority districts the rich have to pick up two tabs. One is for the presumed winners, the Democrats, and the other is for the Republican Party candidates, to keep their hopes alive and the pressure on the Democrats.

Talk about a quagmire. The Democrats can't get out of Afghanistan without a "victory" because that would make them vulnerable to the Republicans. The Republicans are really, really worried about the future tax burden (and everyone should be), and the smarter ones are beginning to realize that the military part of the military-industrial complex has gotten to big compared to the industrial part. Too much industry has left the U.S.A., leaving a service-based economy that can't pay for the industrial goods we import.

Once I was working as a waiter in a pizza joint and a table of customers ran out on me. The restaurant owner, chewed me out thoroughly, but did not carry out his threat to take the tab out of my miniscule wages. He had to pick up the tab.

When taxes get high, evasion becomes commonplace. Some blame the Greek crisis on that phenomena.

Before dining out, which I seldom due since my wife and I both prefer cooking ourselves, I like to negotiate who is going to pay the tab. I don't like surprise. I especially don't like heavy drinkers who suggest that the tab be split "evenly." The federal deficit and national debt are one big surprise waiting to happen. There is absolutely nothing in our legal codes about who exactly is going to pay that tab.

In California we have seen the same problem with the state budget. Every constituency sucking on the state tit, from welfare babes to billionaire contractors, wants more, at the very least a restoration of the recent budget cuts. Paying for more means raising taxes on an entire class of people. But taxes really do hurt people, and the economy, and are already high except for one class of people. Those who have benefitted from the undervaluing of their buildings, for tax purposes, due to Proposition 13.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Yes on 14

14. Elections. Increased Right to Participate in Primary Elections

California's Proposition 14, on the ballot for the June 8, 2010, would make major changes in how citizens get elected to office in California. While it is not without its risks, it is a reform well worth trying. At its core it makes elections less partisan for offices in the State Legislature and U.S. Congress. It takes a step towards the non-partisan model already used in elections for local offices like school boards, city councils, and county boards of supervisors.

Under the current system a primary and a general election are held, with each recognized political party selecting a candidate in the primary. A candidate who comes in second in their parties primary is out no matter how many votes they get. A candidate who wins their primary (and third party primaries are rarely contested) goes onto the general election no matter how few votes they get. Independent candidates (highly discouraged by election rules) also go straight to the general election. This violates basic principles of democracy.

In the new system the two highest vote getters go on to the general election, whatever their parties. In many of the election districts, as they are currently gerrymandered, the likely outcome is either two members of the Democratic Party or two members of the Republican Party. The consensus among political pundits is that this will cause the elections to gravitate towards the center.

For instance, moderate Republicans (often fiscal conservatives who are pro-choice environmentalists) have trouble winning Republican primaries in Republican districts. By coming in second in the primary election, behind the more conservative Republican but ahead of any Democrats, a moderate Republican could be in a position to win the general election by appealing to Democratic voters who can't simply vote the party line.

Voters would need to do more thinking; they would no longer be able to simply rely on party labels printed on their ballots.

Third parties, notably the Green Party, have argued against Proposition 14, asserting a right to have their candidates in the general election. First, this is not a right. Second, Prop 14 creates a major opportunity for independent and alternative party candidates. Using the Green Party as an example (no disrespect to Libertarians, etc.), currently there are very few registered Green Party voters. So in a primary Green Party candidates only get a few votes. This makes them look like losers even as they advance to the general election. If Prop 14 passes anyone can vote for a Green Party candidate in the primary election. Even if the candidate is not in the top 2, they have a much-improved chance of getting out of the under-five-percent ghetto, if they run a strong campaign. Which means they are in a position to do better in the next election.

Also, a Libertarian in a largely Republican district might have a chance of coming in second ahead of the leading Democratic Party candidate. A Green (or Peace & Freedom Party) candidate in a heavily Democratic Party district might come in ahead of the leading Republican.

The main point democracy advocates should be making is that Proposition 14 allows voters to vote for who they want in primary elections. They are guaranteed that the two top vote getters will go head-to head in the general election. Party bosses will lose some power.

Today the Democratic Party dominates the state, and it is ossified. Money and power have created a machine that prevents reform from within. Prop 14 allows insurgent Democrats (and Republicans, and Greens) to gain control of their local party. It won't be easy, but at least it will become possible.

Whether 14 passes or not, the big problems will remain. The California Constitution is a bloated mess. Most money in California politics comes from relatively few rich people. We are saddled with the federal system where are most important decisions are made in Washington, D.C. by representatives of states that are even more befuddled by the modern world than our own representatives are.

If Proposition 14 passes it will not go into effect until the 2012 round of elections. In 2010 we will mostly see the re-election of the same incumbents who got us into the current mess. Except when they are term-limited out and replaced by the next player in line in their party machine.

But in 2012 we would see politicians having to earn the right to be in the general election by getting enough votes. The people of California could begin to be united in the pursuit of excellence in government, rather than divided by moribund political parties. We might begin fixing some of our social and economic problems, instead of leaving them as black energy holes.

Vote Yes on Proposition 14.

Text and Arguments, Proposition 14

Saturday, April 17, 2010

New Plan Could End Electoral Corruption

Not to pick on California Senator Barbara Boxer, but I was looking for an example of how our (or their) system works and found this at today: "The proceeds from twin fundraisers will be split between Boxer and the Democratic National Committee; ticket prices range from $100 for a reception to $17,600 for dinner with the president.” [Calif. Sen. Boxer Finds Rocky Re-election Terrain, Associated Press April 17, 2010]

$17,600 is about half the annual take home pay of the average worker in California.

Californians have been trained to think that a bribe consists of a suitcase full of paper United States money given to a politician (or policeman or bureucrat). But a large election donation all to often is simply a legalized bribe.

According to the Supreme Court (of California's overlord, the federal government of the U.S.A.) the rigth to free speech includes the right of the rich, and of business corporations, to give unlimited "donations" to political campaigns.

That is the main reason we are in such a fiscal mess. The $17,600 crowd wants a return on its investment. Often millions of dollars of taxpayer money are allocated to please someone who has given only a few thousand dollars in donations. On a larger scale, millions may be spent in donations and lobbying to get billions in targetted expenditures. But the same people want low taxes. So most of the tax burden, and almost none of the benefit from government spending, falls to the middle class.

I am a strong believer that even those of us who are near the bottom of the economic pyramid should set some money aside to help candidates we like. Even near minimum wage workers, and certainly skilled workers, could contribute $25 to their favorite candidate once every two years. We have numbers on our side: 5,000 $25 donations is $125,000, enough to give an honest candidate a chance in a city council or State Assembly race. But we don't have a culture of giving to election campaigns in the working class. When unions were stronger, they collected dues and used some of those dues for politics. Workers got used to not worrying about it, and never thought about this consequence of letting the unions die. [Not that many unions did not have their own corruption issues.]

Here is a simple cure: give tax credits for voting and for making political donations in California. Say $100 for every time you vote, up to $100 per year for donations to candidates or campaigns for propositions. To make this really attractive, don't make people wait to file their taxes to get the credits. We have computers, we should be able to set up a system that can do this easily with minimal fraud.

If even 50% of the voters of California took advantage of the election campaign contribution tax credit, this would wash away the advantages of large single campaign donations.

More at

Monday, March 29, 2010

Catching up on California Referenda, etc.

My lack of writing here does not mean that a lot has not been going on. There is nenewed interest in the issue of Corporate Personhood, so I'm going to be speaking in Davis on April 15, and then we are celebrating Democracy Day in Point Arena with a couple of events: on the 23rd This Land Is Your Land will be shown at the Arena Theater and on the 24th we'll have a discussion on corporate personhood.

There will be 5 propositions on the California primary ballot on June 8, 2010. I'm not sure that illustrates democracy in action, since getting propositions on the ballot takes so many signatures these days, it mostly happens when some big business interests have money to throw at an issue. You can see my takes on the five issues at June 2010 California Propositions Overview at

By way of controvery, I am in favor of Proposition 14, which makes the primaries essentially non-partisan. I don't buy the fear-driven arguments of the California Democratic, Republican, and Green Parties. What is good for the citizens is not necessarily what is good for the parties. Incumbents tend to have a lock on elections in California, and so small groups of voters, the majority within the dominant party in each district, decide almost all elections in the primaries. In particular I think that "third" parties will be able to attract more voters in the primaries under Proposition 14, and that should help them build their cores of regular voters. In the many districts of California that have become nearly single-party, in November everyone will be able to choose from two candidates of the dominant party. That would at least break the monotony.

Money will still be a big factor in the campaigns, and so will all the usual political trappings. I don't expect 14 will pass, but if it does I don't expect a lot of change overnight. I do hope that more people will participate in primaries and also register decline-to-state, instead of feeling they have to be in a particular party to participate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Going Down With the U.S.A.

As we enter the off-year election season, Californians and Americans both have a lot to be angry about. The incompetence of incumbent politicians and their mostly capitalist masters has reached epic proportions.

Nothing is being done about overpopulation. Only token measures are being taken as greenish nods towards long-term environmental sustainability. Yet despite ignoring these very real problems, the economy is in shambles.

I believe that in general Californians are over-taxed. I am not saying that there are not people who don't pay their share, because of one loophole or another. I am saying that between local, state, and federal taxes and between income, real estate, sales taxes and various fees, the problem is not that the tax rate as a whole is too low.

Why, when we pay so much in taxes, is there so little to show for it? One reason is bureaucratic creep, which is the tendency over time for bureacracies to expand, and for pay for especially the highest level of bureaucrats to increase out of proportion to productivity. This is true within business corporations even more so that in government agencies.

The other is misallocation of taxes. This happens in all areas, on all scales. But the biggest problem for California is the biggest problem for the United States of America: defense spending.

The reality is that the U.S. runs a global empire. We spend more on our military than pretty much any conceivable combination of enemy states put together.

This has undermined America's economy since the Vietnam War, and now the sink holes are appearing. The biggest, undeniable sink holes are the federal deficit and federal debt.

While I believe that we are in an economic upturn this year, I don't see the Democratic Party or the Republican Party dealing with our fundamental economic problems. As a tag-team they are able to crush third-parties and independent candidates, but they also amplify economic mismanagement. In California the Republican politicians won't cut prison funding, or admit that the War on Drugs is a failure. The Democrats don't seem to recognize that the rest of us can only pay so much for welfare programs before we have to start begging ourselves. On the national level both parties fall over themselves to serve and protect the budget of the Department of Defense.

The most recent round of blame has to be laid squarely on the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Recall that many Democrats in Congress voted for those tax cuts, including Mike Thompson of California's 1st Congressional District. The cuts were supposed to stimilate the economy, eventually leading to higher tax collections on a larger economy. But then we had an amplification of the Islamic rebellion, and President Bush with Republican and Democratic Party support decided to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan. Domestic programs were not cut, nor were taxes raised.

The federal deficit was bad enough when the economy was in its latest up cycle, fueled by too-low interest rates from the Federal Reserve and the fee-based mortgage origination system that led to the housing bubble. When the bubble popped, the Democrats blamed George Bush and the Republicans, conveniently forgetting their own support for those low taxes on the rich and high defense spending.

Think of it this way: if the state of California were to pull out of the Union, and we wanted to pay off our share of the national debt on a per capita basis, how much would we each pay? You don't even want to know the answer. It is too depressing to print here.

On a funnier note, the rich really kicked themselves in their collective ass with part of the Bush (+Democrats+Republicans) tax cuts. The rich don't pay the same taxes as you and me. Most Americans are employees, so their biggest tax bite is federal income tax on wages plus social security taxes. The rich mainly get richer from capital gains and dividends (of course they may pay real estate taxes, and sales tax). So President Bush lowered taxes on capital gains. But surprise, the economy was so mismanaged that between the time of the Bush tax cut and today, on the whole, in the stock market (the biggest liquid source of capital gains), no one made any capital gains!

In other words, in retrospect, as a class, the rich would have been better off not wrecking the economy with tax cuts and military spending. Then they would have at least actually had some capital gains to spend, after they paid the old tax rate.

When will they ever learn. [Where have all the flowers gone ...]

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

California Should Sell Its Own Bonds

I am, generally speaking, opposed to the use of bonds for California finances. I believe that it is wiser to pay for all projects out of general funds, rather than increase the total cost by paying interest on borrowed money. I believe bonds can lead to waste; people, including politicians and bureaucrats, are not as careful with borrowed money. Another cost of bonds that is seldom considered is that the interest paid on them is exempt from taxation, which lowers the state's revenues. This creates hidden costs, with the hidden benefits going mainly to the wealthiest citizens of the state.

Even when projects have a high value to the citizens of California, there can be too many of them, borrowing too much. I believe we are long past that point, and should have a ten year moratorium on all new statewide bonds. Localities and school districts could issue bonds at their discretion.

If we do issue bonds, we should create an in-house California brokerage office to sell the bonds and to create an aftermarket in the bonds. There is no reason why professionals from corporate brokerage houses can't be hired to do this. The cost to the state of issuing bonds would drop, and the corrupt practices that have evolved around bond issues could be brought under control.

Some people think private enterprises always do a better job than government bureaus at any given task. These people apparently don't have much work experience in private enterprise. You can run either badly, and you can run either well. If both are run well, I believe the citizens of this state would get quite an advantage from doing bond sales in house.

In general I am for a smaller government of California. But in some cases a few government workers can do quality, necessary work for the taxpayers far cheaper than is done by private companies.

The government of California needs to shrink, but it needs to shrink to fit, not shrink to being useless.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

California 2010 Looks Grim

The global economy and even the U.S. economy may be recovering, but 2010 looks grim for California. It is difficult for a state with a $20 billion projected budget deficit to pull itself out of a recession. Even as some California businesses are gearing up exports to China and India, the public service sector will be seeing major cutbacks.

Unlike the federal government, the State of California can't just borrow money during recessions to see it through. It borrows too much money all the time anyway, in the form of bonds. But the real problem is a lack of long-term budget planning. The Democrats and Republicans in Sacramento, pawns of their respective corrupt party regimes, can't even do a single year's budget on time.

The seeming prosperity of California from 2002 until 2006 came in a form that was particularly misleading to those responsible for budgets. Let's imagine what it is like to be a California Assembly (or State Senate) member in California. You raised a lot of money to win the election, and owe a lot of people favors. Normally you would need to dampen post-election expectations. But in good tax years, you can take a lot of the pressure off yourself by spending every cent that comes in, and providing whatever tax loopholes your donors demand. Better still, be optimistic. If tax revenues went up in 2005, plan for them to go up in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 ...

But California's economy was not really producing much more in real goods and services in 2006 (the last great tax year) than it was in 2002. The increase in taxes was largely due to the real-estate frenzy. Under Proposition 13, if you stay in your home property taxes stay low. But if you buy a new home, taxes are based on the sales price. So when real-estate changed hands in 2005 and 2006, there was a windfall in real-estate taxes. The assumption is that once a house is set at a high tax rate, it will stay there (with modest annual increases) until it is sold again, at an even higher price. Bad assumption.

I was on the Point Arena School Board in 2005 and 2006 and our revenues were increasing 8% to 10% a year. The Superintendent loved it. He could give more money to the teachers without having to cut back in other areas. I said we should be more careful, paying out any surplus in bonuses instead of raises, because it is really hard to take back a raise. In my experience teachers unions prefer layoffs to pay cutbacks. Which hurts the kids. I did not believe we could rely on 10% budget increases on an annual basis. I was right, of course, but no one was much interested in my arguments in 2005. I like to think I made my district more fiscally conservative than many other districts, but in retrospect we were spending wildly and the district did run into a crunch when the bubble burst.

Public employees and welfare recipients are the people most affected by the state budget crisis. But they really need to understand that what they were given in the middle of the decade was a mistake, it was based on an illusion, it was a standard of living that was not sustainable. Those who have been laid off (private and public sector) have paid for the mistake for all of us. It isn't fair. We should all share some of the pain, and we all need to work more effectively when we do work. Unless we want to become a third-world economy going forward.

The place where we should be able to find the most savings is prisons. Aside from the common observation that prison guard salaries are outrageously high, we need to admit that our lock-them-away system is an economic disaster. I believe that for most criminals shorter sentences consistently applied have a strong deterent effect. I also believe that crime intervention programs among high school students are the most economically effective way to cut crime. Most kids will do the right thing if given the right guidance, support, and a job. In addition, we need to bring most black market economies into the legitimate economy. Black markets create super-profits that can be used to lure youths (and adults) into crime.

I don't expect much to change. Every incumbent should be thrown out, but most voters will just elect the same old people. They know there was a train wreck in Sacramento, but they don't understand how their own incumbent was part of the train wreck. Almost the only changes will be when the incumbents are term-limited out, and even then the party machines will just promote the same corrupt types up through their primaries.

Probably there will be a Democrat elected governor this year, and it will probably be Jerry Brown. And he will face the same realities Schwartzenegger has faced lately. Except the economy might be more on the mend by the time he takes over in 2011.

When a computer is filled with crap, with viruses and trojans and even otherwise harmless programs that just run in the background taking up memory and CPU time, at some point if you want to use the computer you need to clean it out and reboot it. California desperately needs a reboot, but even Hercules would be bewildered by the amount of crap that needs to be cleaned out.