Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Denial in California

A new Field poll has come out with numbers on what kind of spending cuts Californians would like to see.  It is no surprise really, but a majority of voters favor barely any cuts at all.  Out of 14 categories, the only two to eke out a narrow majority of votes are parks & prisons.

More interestingly however, is how it breaks down along party lines. 

Democrats unsurprisingly only agree to cut one major category
• prisons (by 61%).  
 Also no surprise is the GOP's endorsement of cuts in
• environmental regulation (70%)
• state parks and recreation (56%)
• public transportation (56%)
• public assistance programs for low-income families with dependent children (55%)
• child care programs (52%)
• state prisons and correctional facilities (51%)
Everyone agrees that the last thing to cut is education (20% all voters, 13% Democrats, 34% GOP).

But when you look at the state budget, many of these categories represent a very slight percentage of the budget.

Obviously these sorts of attitudes aren't sustainable, for either party, without an increase in taxes.  For Democrats, who would only like to see cuts in prisons, the only area of savings is going to have to come out of the prison budget, which is only around 7% of total spending.  As it exists today, it is faced with a number of problems, not the least of which is overcrowding. 

For the GOP, much more willing to make cuts, the overwhelmingly desired cut is to environmental regulation, which barely makes up 1% of the budget.  It's about evenly tied on whether to cut prisons, parks, public transportation, and child and family services, which do take up a considerable portion of the budget.

All of which spells out pretty well why we are a state in such dire financial straits.  The public is massively polarized over what types of services the government should be performing.  The Democrats and GOP are locked in a bitter struggle with deep roots in very different views of human nature and social development.

But with climbing deficits, and no other option than emergency program cuts, the state is literally being forced to follow the GOP's world view of what role the government should play in a modern capitalist society - with the possible exception of prisons being forced to release convicts early.  If Democrats want to see their vision of a government more actively involved in ameliorating what they view as a struggle for basic rights and equal opportunities, they must demand that Californians embrace higher levels of taxation.

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