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Replace Hiltzik.

| 4 Comments

While I was working on the bookkeeping last night, a bunch of more nimble bloggers jumped on Michael Hiltzik's latest fact- and conceptually-challenged column and pointed out that the premise of his column was false; California's population didn't increase 30% in the last decade, it actually increased about 14%.

Not to mention Hiltzik's decision to exclude all of the bond-financed spending and accounting sleight-of-hand that has gone into the budget over the last 4 or 5 years. Therefore California government spending clearly, obviously, and factually didn't increase at the rate of population increase plus an inflation index, it increased faster.

Gosh, who could have known? An eight year old with access to Google, perhaps - but not the lead business columnist for the leading newspaper in the State.

In my last post on Hiltzik, I pointed out that he similarly misread a tax-rate table and misrepresented California's relative tax burden. He argued for a split property-tax roll, and then explained that homeowners should be able to defer the resulting tax increases until sale. Um, a split roll is one which reassesses commercial (income) property on a different basis (different assessment timing, different rates, etc.) than owner-occupied residential real property.

Does Hiltzik have a clue?

Look, I'm not an antitax warrior. I believe that government has an important role to play in our society. But government has an especial obligation to deliver value for our tax dollars, and California's government isn't. And we voters are not going to be inclined to up the credit limit until it is.

Patterico asks readers to write to Jamie Gold, the Reader's Rep for the Times and ask for a new column correcting the error. I'd suggest we write to her and suggest a new columnist instead.

4 Comments

The solution is simply to save tax revenues in time of prosperity to cover shortfalls in time of recession.

I would like to see an end or a much higher bar to constitutional amendment by plebiscite. As a Californian I receive every election a thick booklet with ballot propositions, the text of which is barely explained by a summary from a nonpartisan state analyst's office. There follows for each proposition an "argument" and "rebuttal" (and counter-argument and counter-rebuttal) submitted by people representing each side. The propositions are usually worded ambiguously or badly and many get on the ballot thanks to paid signature gatherers funded by unidentified groups and individuals.

The state is still a very nice place to live and I hope the system can pull itself back from the brink. At any rate we shall see over the next year or so.

The solution is simply to save tax revenues in time of prosperity to cover shortfalls in time of recession.

That would indeed be a rational approach. But as we've seen in both the dot-com boom and the real estate bubble, the CA legislature not only spends the windfall, but assumes that it will be there forever and writes it into the base budget.

The problem is with the political class. The proposition system is ugly, but a necessary corrective as long as the politicians think the state is here to benefit them, not the reverse.

"The problem is with the political class. The proposition system is ugly, but a necessary corrective as long as the politicians think the state is here to benefit them, not the reverse."

The trouble is that the proposition system hasn't done this, at least not in the last decade or so. Since term limits the political class here (ie. career politicians) is a lot weaker and that is as much a problem as a political class that is too entrenched.

I don't have a perfect answer to the situation and I agree that there is a place for popular referenda. But I think plebiscites should be limited to constitutional-procedural questions or to matters that require surmounting a very high bar. Otherwise the electorate and the state legislature become competing bodies.

I agree that the elected political class has become a lot weaker with term limits, but the unelected political class (lobbyists, civil service union leaders, bureaucrats, "commission" politicos) has gotten vastly powerful, to the point where it must be smashed if CA is to have any chance at effective, affordable government.

Term limits were definitely a mistake. And the initiative system does need reforms of various sorts.

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