Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm About Not To Vote...

I think this will be the first time I haven't gone to the polls since moving to California.

I kind of hate myself for not voting, but I've got my reasons.

First of all I live in something of a media vacuum, and so the dire predictions of disaster if the various things on this special election fail have only slowly been getting to me. This has been made worse by my local NPR station - which has been in pledge hell for the last 1.5 weeks, which means I turn it off immediately after hearing it - so I'm less informed than usual.

But beyond that, I'm truly of mixed mind about the mess we're in.

I may be the only person in the state who think the legislators aren't responsible for this mess. No, we, the citizens are, and I can sum up why quite simply:
  • We hate paying taxes
  • We don't want to give up services
  • We keep tying our legislator's hands with rules and initiatives
  • We require that every decision of consequence be encoded in the constitution and therefore go before the people for a vote
That set of choices - and they are (or were) choices - leads to disaster every time.

So here we sit staring at a huge budget deficit. If we pass these silly measures it's going to be bad. If we don't pass them it's going to be worse.

Some claim the measures were all written at the last minute with no review. Maybe true. Some claim we'll be letting child rapists out of prison if we don't pass them. Also possibly true.

All I know is that I'm sick of the games. If we haven't got the money to pay for things there are only a few valid choices:
  • Pay for less
  • Pay less for what you get
  • Get more money to pay for what you need
That's it, people. Nothing else is sustainable in the long term. Either you spend less in some way or bring in more money. It really, really, (REALLY!) is that simple.

From my - admittedly too brief thanks to work - review, every last one of these measures is a shell game. We're moving money from one year to the next or borrowing now and will have to pay it back later (with interest), or something similar. Frankly it's crap.

It is basically impossible to look at any one state program and say "that's a waste of money." It's possible I feel that way about some programs, but others will always legitimately disagree. I assure you that no one ever said "here's a really stupid way to spend the state's money!" and then we all voted for it. No, it never happens that way. The expenses are all good in and of themselves. There may be some unintended consequences of these things, but actual fraud of intent at the creation of a given law or bill is exceptionally rare.

And of course no one ever wants to admit that they get any value for their tax dollar. "I pay too much in taxes" is all I hear - from everyone, nominally on the left or the right. And then the complaints follow. "Have you noticed the roads? They stink! So many potholes! And my kid's teacher has 43 students in her 4th grade classroom. And my friend just lost his unemployment benefits because he still can't find a job. What kind of system lets those things happen? They must be wasting all our money somewhere." Oh the irony of it all.

In any case we're stuck with it. The economy sucks, people are hurting, and we're being dragged back to the polls to vote on a series of measures that are so complicated no one can predict what they will mean for the budget just a couple of years from now.

Well, I've had it. I am no expert at this, and I can't make informed decisions about it, and for that reason I am not going to vote tomorrow. Part of me wants to avoid damage to the system, but part of me also wants the state to see some shock therapy.

That said, the people that really, really need to get zapped are the voters. The initiative process has gotten entirely out of hand and we've handcuffed our legislators at every turn. They have no money to play with, people. X% for K-14 education (prop 98, right?). No, you can't raise property taxes (prop 13). Y% for roads (some other proposition that was approved a few years back). And so on.

We, collectively, deserve everything that goes wrong as a result of this budget crisis. A smarter electorate would have given their legislators the tools to solve the problem and let them do it, not actively prevented it.

The next few years are going to be ugly. There will be fewer police, fire fighters, teachers, and so on. Taxes will be high and services will be low. The standard of living is going to go down.

Maybe that's necessary, though. Maybe - just maybe - if we all suffer enough someone will start telling people the truth: this is our fault, people. Get it through your thick skulls. We need to spend less or take in more money. Anything else just causes the kind of issues we're seeing now.

Happy suffering.