During the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States each had formidable nuclear missile arsenals aimed at each other’s cities and military installations, there was a doctrine of military strategy called M.A.D. or mutually assured destruction.
According to Wikipedia, “The doctrine assumes that each side has enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other side and that either side, if attacked for any reason by the other, would retaliate with equal or greater force. The expected result is an immediate escalation resulting in both combatants’ total and assured destruction”.
I was reminded of this doctrine as I read the threats from the dedicated partisans on both sides of the aisle who were apoplectic about the California state budget that is pending in the Legislature. The unions are threatening their patrons, the Democratic members, with retribution at the ballot box if they vote for this budget and some Republicans are threatening their members with excommunication from the party if they vote for it.
But before Republicans and Democrats push the button that will set off a political thermonuclear exchange they cannot control, they need to step back from the brink and do what is best for the people California. That is the job they signed up for.
Both sides believe that this budget violates their party’s basic principles.
Democrats complain about spending cuts, a spending cap, the perceived threat to environmental and labor laws and the well being of their political foot soldiers in the public employee’s unions. They have spent years passing legislation that has only hindered the development of key infrastructure such as power plants and water systems all in the name of promoting their secular religion called environmentalism.
Republicans are incensed by the presence of new taxes in this budget including some, like the Vehicle License Fee (VLF), they thought had been rolled back with the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Recall of 2003. They have spent years fighting against new taxes and fighting against any tax increases, offering spending cuts as the only path to a balanced budget. Their catechism is just as demanding as the Democrats and does not brook any deviation.
The simple truth is that spending is out of control and taxes are among the highest in the nation. And if that isn’t bad enough, other states in the West are now openly coming to California to poach our skilled workers and productive businesses. If I had a company that was being strangled by hyper regulation and confiscatory taxes, leaving California would be a no brainer.
How did we get here?
For years our political leaders have adopted the Scarlett O’Hara Strategy for dealing with the critical problems facing California. That theory is based on the famous line delivered by Scarlett in the film classic “Gone with the Wind” when she breathlessly stated, “Fiddle-dee-dee! I won’t worry about that today. I’ll worry about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!”
Well Scarlett, tomorrow has arrived and with a vengeance.
We have depended on an unworkable tax system that can be summed up by hoping that rich people get richer so we could tax them to fund government for the rest of the population. We have depended on Mother Nature and the Colorado River for our water, never bothering to think how to catch the rain Mother Nature provides or and how we will provide water for our citizens in the future. Nine years after the 2000-01 energy crisis, we still get 20% to 30% of our electricity from neighboring states. And if a bill that is in the hopper in the State Senate, SB42 passes, that number could reach 70%!
Years of get-out-of-town budgets cobbled together with obscene levels of borrowing and accounting gimmicks have brought us to this sad day. At some point, the bills that have piled up need to be paid.
Likewise, the underpinnings of the California economy like roads, water storage and delivery systems, levees, power plants and transmission lines, and all other forms of infrastructure, have either not been built or are so rotted and decayed that the politicians dare not tell us the real cost of fixing all this for fear we would either die from sticker shock or storm the Capitol and tar and feather the lot of them.
We have kicked the can of solving our many problems down the road for so long that the can which began as a soup can is now as big as a garbage can. Kicking a soup can down the road is pretty easy with no real pain to the kicker, but try kicking a full garbage can and you will feel pain. And that is exactly what is happening right now.
Politically both parties are playing to their base, but those bases are shrinking.
Currently Democratic voter registration is at 44.4%, and while it’s better than the Republicans 31.4%, it’s nothing to crow about. Both parties are stagnant and the fastest growing group of voters is “decline to state” which is at 19.9%. Add to that the 4.3% of the minor parties and you have almost a quarter of eligible voters who are not members of either major party.
But both parties need to realize that the voters have run out of patience and that their intransigent stands on either cutting spending or increasing taxes will assure their mutual destruction. At some point, the voters will just say to hell with both of them. That would not be a good thing as it is important to have a vibrant political system, and political parties are an essential part of that system.
I realize that our legislators are casting probably the toughest votes of their careers, and some might be signing their political death warrant with their vote. I don’t envy them. But when they as a body have allowed these problems to fester for so long that the solutions are extremely painful and costly, I don’t have much sympathy.
And I hate to be the bearer of bad news to our legislators, but this vote might be the easy one. Soon they will be confronting the skyrocketing costs of the public employee pensions and retiree healthcare that must be urgently addressed.
Many of our local governments are already feeling the pain of these expenses, and that will only increase as baby boomer government workers retire and the weak economy reduces the value of CALPERS investments forcing the Legislature to ask the voters for even more taxes to cover the imbalance. Add that to the horrible state economy which seems to be worsening and we might look back at this time as the “good old days”.
Finally, there is an old fable about the grasshopper and the ant. The grasshopper partied through the spring, summer and fall, while the ant stored food and prepared for the winter. And when winter came the grasshopper was out in the cold and had to depend on the ants to survive. Just like our politicians now look to Washington and the money from taxpayers from other states to help solve the mess they created.
We used to be ants when we built what needed to be built and saved for the bad times. But we have been grasshoppers for too long. Time to be ants again.