Friday, July 3, 2009

California issues IOUs

First the government of California passed the single largest state tax increase in the history of the United States. Then ballot propositions are sent to the voters to extend the tax increases, which the voters reject. The propositions were rejected by all groups in California; they were rejected by blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and "others", they were rejected by men and women, by Republicans and Democrats, by conservatives and moderates, and only broke even among liberals. They were most strongly rejected in Orange County and barely rejected in San Francisco County.

The rejection of the propositions threw the budget into unbalance again, and as time went on and the economy worsened (and the tax increases failed to provide a corresponding increase in revenue for reasons Miseans would understand but would confuse Keynesians) the need for a balanced budget grew more urgent as the state Comptroller warned repeatedly that the state was running out of money. In the time between the failures of the propositions to the deadline the deficit rose from a projected $16 billion to a projected $24 billion.

The deadline came and went, a budget was not passed, and so on July 2nd the State of California started issuing IOUs. This was largely because although the Republicans were more than willing to aid and abet the last tax increase the voter reaction was so strong that they thought it better to actually follow their election promises this time around.

The reaction from the politicians is the most interesting part.

In the Assembly Budget Committee, a Democrat on the committee opined that while he supported the new round of tax increases perhaps it was time for the state to start living within its means. Chairperson Noreen Evans disagreed saying "There is this mantra out there 'living within our means' and while it sound really nice it sounds really simple and it sound really responsible it's meaningless. Our means are completely within our control". She opposed any cutting of the budget on the grounds that the state can always raise taxes to cover any needed revenue.

In an interview Assemblywoman Karen Bass reacted to the Republican refusal to approve of any tax increases. The recall effort against Assemblyman Anthony Adams (as well as other Republicans who violated even indirectly their no-tax pledges) has scared the rest of the party straight. Assemblywoman Bass opined about those who dare oppose tax increases by saying "The Republicans were essentially threatened and terrorized against voting for revenue. Now [some] are facing recalls. They operate under a terrorist threat: 'You vote for revenue and your career is over.' I don't know why we allow that kind of terrorism to exist. I guess it's about free speech, but it's extremely unfair." Daring to hold politicians accountable is now a form of terrorism? She called the taxpayers of California "terrorists" for being over-taxed already and not wanting to be even more over-taxed.

Finally Proposition 13, the favorite scapegoat of all who believe in government instead of the people, is being blamed with any rationale that makes limited sense at the moment. Some say it works too well. Others say that it holds the majority hostage to the minority, as if requiring 2/3 to pass a tax increase means that the remaining 1/3 is actually in charge.

So after all of that the state is issuing IOUs instead of payments. There is no information yet on whether or not the banks will accept these interest bearing IOUs, although the likelihood of that increases with the proffered interest rate. If the banks decline to accept the IOUs the willingness of the public to receive them will plummet, as will the credit rating of the state. Where California goes, so does the rest of the nation.

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