George Will

Proposition 1A would create a complicated -- hence probably porous -- spending cap, and a rainy day fund. Realists, however, do not trust the Legislature to obey the law, which may be why some public employees unions cynically support 1A. Another May 19 proposition, opaquely titled the "Lottery Modernization Act," would authorize borrowing $5 billion from future hypothetical lottery receipts. The title is a measure of the political class' meretriciousness.

If voters pass 1A's hypothetical restraint on government spending, their reward will be two extra years (another $16 billion) of actual income, sales and vehicle tax increases. The increases were supposed to be for just two years. Voters are being warned that if they reject the propositions, there might have to be $14 billion in spending cuts. (Note the $15 billion number four paragraphs above.) Even teachers might be laid off. California teachers -- the nation's highest paid, with salaries about 25 percent above the national average -- are emblematic of the grip government employees unions have on the state, where 57 percent of government workers are unionized (the national average is 37 percent).

Flinching from serious budget cutting, and from confronting public employees unions, some Californians focus on process questions. They devise candidate-selection rules designed to diminish the role of parties, thereby supposedly making more likely the election of "moderates" amenable to even more tax increases.

But what actually ails California is centrist evasions. The state's crisis has been caused by "moderation," understood as splitting the difference between extreme liberalism and hyperliberalism, a "reasonableness" that merely moderates the speed at which the ever-expanding public sector suffocates the private sector.

California has become liberalism's laboratory, in which the case for fiscal conservatism is being confirmed. The state is a slow learner and hence will remain a drag on the nation's economy. But it will be a net benefit to the nation if the federal government and other state governments profit from California's negative example, which Californians can make more vividly instructive by voting down the propositions on May 19.

Remember the story of the mule that paid attention only after being walloped by a two-by-four? The Democratic-controlled state Legislature is like that. Fortunately, it has handed voters some two-by-fours -- the initiatives. Resounding rejections of them should get Sacramento's attention.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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