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The Mess in California Doesn't Deserve a Hollywood Ending

By Glenn BeckHost, "Glenn Beck"

If you've seen the cover of my New York Times #1 best-selling book, you know I have..."complicated" feelings about the state of California. Oh--I guess I should be clear: I'm not talking about my New York Times #1 best-seller, "The Christmas Sweater," but my otherNew York Times #1 Best-seller, "An Inconvenient Book." On the cover (now available in paperback and the perfect read for vacationing at the beach!), I've got a little paper piece of California hanging out of my mouth. If you're confused by the imagery, that's nothing compared to my confusion about "The Golden State." (I know that's just a nickname, but lately they really doseem to want our gold.)

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Lately, the problem on the Left Coast goes way beyond one city or citizen--the whole state's a big, steaming mess, and the regular, hard-working men and women of the state being asked to foot the bill.
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The truth is, there's a lot of I love about California--the people are friendly (except for the insane ones who talk about UFOs and building a utopian city made our of sprouts and tofu), there's tons of natural beauty, the weather is unbelievable, and due to the time difference, whenever I fly there I get to have an extra dinner. But there's an awful lot I don't like about California, and that's largely due to the way it's run by its politicians.

I could easily write this and 100 other columns about San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. This guy's almost too much to believe. Besides getting cuckoo over plastic grocery bags, he turned "his" San Francisco into a sanctuary city for illegal aliens, he said he wouldn't cooperate with federal officials who didwant to enforce immigration laws and turned away the United States military when they wanted to shoot a video there. Let's just say Mayor Gavin ain't on my Christmas card list. But that's just the beginning.

Then there's Hollywood. It's filled with plenty of talented actors, but too often those same actors get confused with the characters they playand start spouting off about things they know little or nothing about. The last thing we need in a time of complicated international turmoil is Sean Penn and Tim Robbins blathering on. Zip it Spicoli, the grown ups are talking.

But lately, the problem on the Left Coast goes way beyond one city or citizen--the whole state's a big, steaming mess, and the regular, hard-working men and women of the state being asked to foot the bill. Sacramento's bad decisions are costing the whole state money, and lots of it. (Funny how that seems to be a recurring theme these days...they screw up and ask you for a hand out...doesn't it?) No, I haven't forgotten that California is one of the 50 United States and of course we should all help one another out, but sometimes the best love is tough love. Just like I tell my kids, sometimes saying you're sorry doesn't make it right, and the best way to learn a lesson is not to have Daddy swoop in and make everything all better. Letting someone live with the consequences of their bad decisions can often be the only way to make sure that next time, they make betterdecisions.

Tuesday was Election Day in California -- for the 12th time in just seven years -- and voters had their work cut out for them as they were forced to consider a complex slate of budget measures intended to fill a widening state deficit. Did you like the way I worded that? It was kind of a "newsy" way of saying Cali's pockets are empty, and now the great tanned masses have to decide how to fill them up again.

The irony here is that most California voters get it--they don't like more taxes any more than you do. But even if they don't want them, there's still going to be a check that needs paying. As you know, I'm no math wiz, so let me simplify this -- mostly so I can understand it:

  • Until an emergency bill was passed in February, California faced a $42.5 billion gap - the largest state budget gap in American history. Now they're merely facing a $21 billion state budget deficit. (You know what a drag it can be at the end of the month to come up $21 billion short, right?)
  • California voters were asked to decide on six ballot propositions estimated to save $6 billion.
  • Governor Schwarzenegger's revised budget includes cuts totaling $15 billion.
  • If voters rejected the ballot propositions, Schwarznegger said he'd make an additional $6 billion in budget cuts.
  • Early state polling results showed that only one of the six ballot propositions appeared likely to pass.
  • So was there anysupport? Polls showed appreciation for Proposition 1F, a measure that prevents elected state officials from receiving salary hikes in deficit years.
So what's entailed in the guv's proposed $15 billion in budget cuts...cuts the California legislature would have to approve?
  • Borrow $6 billion (how American!)
  • Cut K-12 education by $3 billion (education, schmeducation).
  • Lay off 5,000 of the state's 235,000 workers (sure-income tax revenue is already so low, what's the harm in making it lower?)
  • Cut funding to hospitals, reduce eligibility for health care programs, eliminate or consolidate several boards and commissions, and sell several state landmarks, including San Quentin prison and the Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena (kind of a smorgasbord of desperation).
All cuts hurt someone, but somehow they never seem to hurt those in office. Here's a quick look at the ballot propositions that Californians voted on:

1A - Limits state spending and increases "rainy day" budget stabilization fund.

1B - Requires supplemental payments to local school districts and community colleges to address recent budget cuts.

1C - Allows the state lottery to be modernized to improve its performance with increased payouts, improved marketing, and effective management.

1D - Redirects about $600 million of existing tobacco tax money to protect health and human services for children, including services for at-risk families, services for children with disabilities, and services for foster children.

1E - Amends Mental Health Services Act to transfer funds--for a two-year period--from mental health programs under that act to pay for mental health services for children and young adults

1F - Prevents elected state officials from receiving raises in deficit years.

So leading up to Election Day, it looked like just that last one was getting any traction with voters. So what did the Governor say he'd do then?

  • Borrow $7.5 billion from financially strapped local governments and a vastly depleted investment market.
  • 225,000 children could lose health care coverage.
  • Try to raise $1.8 billion by approving an oil lease off Santa Barbara County, a project recently rejected by the State Lands Commission. The lease would allow the first oil-drilling project off the state's coast in 40 years.
If you asked the average California to come up with a list of very bad ideas, it could well look a lot like the above. But wait--it gets worse. Here's how an article in the online version of Time magazine puts it:

The crisis is compounded by the way California's government works. In most states, the legislature can pass a budget by simple majority vote. The politicians haggle and horse-trade, but a budget eventually gets passed and life moves on. In the Golden State, bitter partisanship is exacerbated by a constitutional rule requiring a two-thirds majority in the legislature to pass either a budget or new taxes. Meanwhile, the state's nearly 100-year-old system of ballot initiatives has progressively tied state government in Gordian knots. As a result, California's budget process has an Alice in Wonderland quality. One confused voter, in an online letter to the Los Angeles Times, quoted Winnie the Pooh: 'This all makes my head hurt a bit." Regarding Proposition 1A, which would place long-term spending restrictions on state government and extend already approved taxes up to two years, the voter wrote: "Why do they need a new rainy-day fund when we already have two? ... The rest of the measures are even more confusing and convoluted. How can they expect us -- with our own lives to manage -- to sort it all out for them?" Historically, when voters do not understand a ballot measure, it usually goes down to defeat. This is the likely outcome for Tuesday's election.

Essentially, there seems to be a firmly-held belief amongst Californians that even if all these ballot measures passed, the big money problems of the state still wouldn't go away. Plus, no matter which way things go, special interests and feuding factions within the state government will only continue to complicate and tie things up longer than anybody cares to think about. And the sad reality is, California voters said, "No thanks, dude," to all but one of the ballot proposals. Yup--the only one that passed was the one that denied raises to elected officials during deficit years. California is in for a world of hurt (and it looks like they're not the only state that'll be dealing with a problem like this--stay tuned for more on that later).

So what does this mean to you, if you're someone who doesn'tlive in California? Plenty. The ugly truth is that when one of the 50 states has trouble keeping their lights on, they come to Washington with their hands out and they want Congress to put some of your money into them. The thing is, through years of mismanagement, over-taxing of businesses and little effort given to keeping some of the state's biggest companies in the state, California is broke and it ain't your fault. So even though they have an action movie star as their head honcho, it's you, one of our great nation's uncredited extras, that's being asked to save the day and guarantee a happy ending.

Maybe it's just me, but I say let them fade to black. There's always the sequel, or in this case, sequels.