In fall 1972, legendary New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael expressed amazement after reading that Richard Nixon was a heavy favorite for re-election. Why? Because she didn’t know anyone in her Manhattan circles who was voting for the president. In his Monday column, the L.A. Times’ George Skelton exposed his Kael-style bubble for all the world to see, and in so doing confirmed what I’ve been writing for years: Sacramento’s Democrats and the Sacramento media establishment generally believe the exact same things. So much for any hope we’ll get honest, neutral coverage of state government.
Skelton confirmed this sad state of affairs in a column that ripped Jerry Brown for saying in 2010 while running for gov that he wouldn’t back “new taxes unless the people vote for them.”
This was an unfortunate promise Brown made when running for governor in a too-clever-by-half effort to undercut opponent Meg Whitman’s false characterization of him as a liberal tax and spender. …
It’s hard to find anyone around the Capitol outside the governor’s office who doesn’t think the promise was wrongheaded.
LOL! A little more than one-third of all state legislators and their aides firmly support the idea that Californians be given a de facto veto over higher taxes. These people are called “Republicans.” In Skelton’s world, they either don’t exist, or they agree with him on the need for higher taxes but just won’t say so.
But what’s even more groan-worthy about this is that it ignores the sentiment of millions of California voters, not just Republican officials. In May 2009, exit polls showed Democrats, Republicans and independents alike rejected higher taxes proposed in a special election. Why? Because they know that California has among the nation’s highest income, sales and gas taxes, and the highest business taxes in the West, and they think the state government should be able to function on the revenue from these sky-high taxes.
What was the Sacramento establishment’s reaction to the May 2009 vote? It was expressed in a later-retracted Sac Bee editorial posted hours after the special election that was a more strident version of the Skelton argument — the voters are idiots who should be sheep who do what we tell them:
Good morning, California voters. Do you feel better, now that you’ve gotten that out of your system?
You wanted to show the state’s politicians just how mad you are at them. And you did. Boy, did you ever. …… you’re sick and tired of all this political mumbo-jumbo.
So you showed those politicians who’s in charge. You. You’re now officially in charge of a state that will be something like $25 billion in the hole for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
So, now that you’ve put those irksome politicians in their place, maybe it’s time to think about this: Since you’re in charge, exactly what do you intend to do about that pesky $25 billion hole in the budget?
That last part matters because of its parallels to Skelton’s column Monday, specifically this part:
“Brown and Democratic legislators attacked the deficit by slashing $16 billion in spending … .”
This is a mathematical lie. So is the “pesky $25 billion hole in the budget” claim in the 2009 Sac Bee editorial. Cutting a projected increase in spending based on an agency’s wish list budget IS NOT THE SAME AS A REAL-WORLD CUT IN SPENDING. The “baseline” budgeting practice that’s standard in California government presumes that if spending doesn’t go up by 6 percent or more a year, that’s a cut.
Not in the non-government world. Not in households or businesses.
Let’s now look at the “enacted budget” info put out by Gov. Brown’s office for this fiscal year and the last one as opposed to the vague glop about state spending that the media usually spread around.
Here’s the “enacted budget” for 2010-11. It shows state general fund spending of $86.6 billion, and total spending, including special funds and bond funds, of $125.3 billion.
Here’s the breakdown for 2011-12. It shows general fund spending of $85.9 billion, and total spending, including special funds and bond funds, of $129.4 billion.
Yes, this is a little simplistic, since it doesn’t flesh out accounting transfers and other maneuvers. But it is not that simplistic. It is definitive in annihilating the idea that there was a $16 billion spending cut pushed through by Brown.
Except in the world of the columnist who covers state government for California’s largest and most influential newspaper.
In George Skelton’s world, Republicans who don’t think tax hikes can be justified aren’t real. Nor are voters with the same view.
In George Skelton’s world, a $700 million cut in general fund spending is really a $16 billion budget cut. Why? Because he accepts and regurgitates the framing of the budget debate provided by state bureaucrats and Gov. Jerry Brown, a framing that holds that any budget that doesn’t go up by 6 percent a year has been “cut.”
But, of course, it doesn’t end there when it comes to what George Skelton ignores. One of the biggest stories in California politics in recent years is the evidence that Latino Democrats no longer believe subservience to the CTA is equal to social justice. But George Skelton can’t be expected to write about that, can he?
As the voice of the establishment, he’s got to keep the establishment’s interests in mind.
Even if defending those interests requires contempt for Republican officials and for voters in general.
Even if defending those interests requires blatant ignorance about mathematics and denial about state spending.
Even if defending those interests requires belief in the absurd idea that school quality is a simple function of school spending, and that it makes sense to have one-size-fits-all policies on teacher pay that purposefully ignore classroom performance.
It’s 2011, and Sacramento has been a terrible mess for a dozen years, a morass in which many state agencies have struggled, whether their budgets were flush or strapped. And what does George Skelton really and truly seem to believe?
That the main problem with California isn’t the terrible economy, or a lack of jobs, or poor schools, or pension costs destroying local governments. Instead, the Golden State’s biggest problem is that its taxes aren’t high enough.
Feel free to laugh until you cry. What did California do to deserve George Skelton?