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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2003
It 's pretty depressing being a Californian these days, and not just because our economy has gone down the crapper. The recall election is quite a study in denial and delusion.

The very idea that there should be a recall is doubtful. We're in trouble now primarily because the national economy slumped, and the high tech sector centered in the Silicon Valley was hit much harder in the slump than other sectors. 9/11 hit us harder than other states because San Francisco is the most popular destination in the country and Los Angeles isn't far behind. Conventions, which have been hit by the weak national economy, were also a major source of income. And the energy crisis drained significant amounts of money from the state.

Only the last of those is even partly Davis's fault, and his fault there is less than that of others. The deregulation bill wasn't passed on his watch. He failed to predict and prepare for the results of bad law and bad policy created by the Wilson administration. And the same people who were behind Wilson and carry more fault for the energy disaster than Davis are now trying to ride Schwarzenegger back into power.

We are stuck dead in a massive budget crisis, and everyone knows it. Everyone who is reasonably well informed knows why: prop 13. But even in the midst of crisis, nobody seems to have a serious plan. Bustamante has advocated eliminating the prop 13 loophole for business property. (Much business property is owned by holding companies, and when it is sold, the company, not the property itself, changes hands. So the property is never reassessed and is still being taxed on its value from 40 years ago or more.) However, nobody believes he can really change it.

Bustamante has proposed a sound, if probably impractical, reform. The Republicans have pretty much nothing but hot air and the continuing pretense that vast savings can be achieved by greater efficiency without effecting any programs that voters like - which is, after all, nearly all of them. Apparently Republicans want you to believe that cutting waste is a fresh idea that nobody has ever thought of before, even though it was the main theme of Ronald Reagan for his 8 years and a constant theme of the 24 years of his successors.

McClintock has been praised for the courage he supposedly showed in the debate. He took firm positions which, as he well knows, are unpopular with most Califonia voters against abortion rights, coastal protection, and immigrant rights. This wasn't really the political daring it was marketed as: McClintock knows those positions are hugely popular with conservative voters he wants to woo away from Schwarzenegger, just as he knows that he only needs about 30% of the vote to have a solid chance of winning. But on the budget, he promised to make $15 bn appear out of nowhere by privatizing government functions and eliminating redundant agencies.

Schwarzenegger promises an audit. He seems to think that the fact that he has no idea what California is spending its money on means nobody else does either. He has promised no cuts in education, and he has promised (what else) further tax cuts: elimination of the increased auto registration fee that is the only significant tax increase since the crisis began. As long as balancing California's budget doesn't require increased taxes, reduced spending, or actual expertise, Schwarzenegger is ready to take the job on. Perhaps on his first day in office, he will force the director to send the budget back to rewrite to come up with a new bottom line.

Everybody seems to agree that you can't ask voters to shoulder real burdens, in the form of either new taxes or reduced programs, even in the midst of a crisis. That doesn't speak well for the future of the state. But why bother with serious issues when you can talk about whether Arnie was in an orgy in 1978, Bustamante was in a racist group even earlier, or Davis is insulting to Germans with thick accents?