Daily Show Had Fun with CA Initiatives, Regardless of Facts

Joel Fox
Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee

The Daily Show had fun with California direct democracy Monday, claiming it is the source of the problem that ails California. See the full clip here.

But along the way, reporter John Oliver didn’t let facts get in the way of telling his story.

Okay, I get that the Daily Show was using our direct democracy as joke material, and no one has outlawed fun, yet. (Can you do that by initiative?)  And, you have to admit direct democracy can be one crazy system. However, the Daily Show leaves an impression on its audiences … remember the last presidential election in which a good portion of the electorate said they got their political information from the Daily Show?

So while you are smiling at the satire, the piece should be flagged for using wrong facts.

The piece implied California’s deficit woes are the responsibility of the initiative process. The show posted a headline from the San Francisco Chronicle that California had a $26-billion deficit. The headline was dated November 11, 2010. That deficit has been cut in half. But, yes, there is still a deficit, although we can debate until the Daily Show is in reruns whether that was the fault of the initiative process.

Reporter Oliver interviewed Democratic Party leader John Burton (and suggested that California tax Burton’s cuss words, which surely would cut the deficit by another billion!) Burton alleged that Proposition 13 cut the state finances so that there is not enough money for schools. No mention, of course, about the cost of pensions eating away government budgets or that California governments have more money in constant dollars today than they did when Prop 13 passed.

Oliver said that Prop 13 mandates that property taxes cannot be raised. He must have missed Dan Walters recent column that property taxes have increased faster than any state tax since Prop 13 passed. But then again Oliver is a little behind in his reading since he is only up to the November 2010 newspapers.

The core of the piece – the reason for it’s being – was that Amazon.com was fighting the state law requiring sales taxes on Internet purchases. Wasn’t that settled three months ago? Amazon is not going ahead with its referendum but you wouldn’t know it from the Daily Show piece that ran Monday. But never mind, after all Amazon could use direct democracy to help overturn the tax, so it’s ripe for satire, I suppose.

However, Oliver boldly predicted that the Amazon effort would be successful and that it was a virtual certainty that Amazon would not be paying sales taxes next year. Yet, we know because of the deal Amazon made with the legislature, the company will be paying state taxes by September if the federal government doesn’t resolve the problem of Internet taxation.

Oliver concluded the piece that the only way to get rid of the initiative process is through … an initiative! He probably is right about that.

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