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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is this When the Planes Start Landing on the Lawn?

It is ironic that Sacramento chose yesterday to honor Captain Chesley Sullenberger who heroically managed to land his imperiled aircraft into the Hudson River and averted disaster by saving his crew. It is ironic because the plane analogy is a metaphor for what is happening right now in Sacramento. In this case the state is out of fuel and needs emergency money in order to land and avert a crisis.

As Senator Cox spoke yesterday on the floor of the Senate, he made reference to a number of metaphors including a correction of Senator Calderon’s botched reference to “Chicken Little.” Senator Cox spoke about the straw that broke the camel’s back, implying that the state taxpayers could no longer bear the load of the tax burden (a tax burden that by most measures ranks somewhere in the middle of the country).

Yesterday was a day of rumors. A day where it was rumored that there was a deal in place and that Senator Cox was ready to flip. It was for that reason that all ears were on the oldest member of the Senate as he rose to speak yesterday afternoon. Instead, those listening, left more confused than they began.

The big news happened in the middle of the night, when the Senate, long rumored unhappy with Senator Cogdill who had cut this deal, finally dumped him and replaced him with the more strident Senator Dennis Holligsworth—a strong opponent of the budget deal that Cogdill negotiated for his caucus.

This is progress? Perhaps only in the sense that Cogdill was incapable of delivering the two other votes besides himself needed to end the stalemate. Where this leaves any deal is now gravely in doubt.

The situation only gets worse from here as Speaker Bass told reporters during her media availability.
“If we don’t pass the budget you know that the situation will get so much worse.”
She went on to lay out the consequences—20,000 layoffs by Governor Schwarzenegger for starters as soon as today. The next step is to stop the remaining infrastructure projects, a process that will lead to the loss of 90,000 jobs and a tremendous ripple effect.
“This is just one more reminder that just one more Republican Senator needs to do the right thing and vote for the bipartisan compromise.”
That appears no closer to happening than it did yesterday.

There are many that suggest that what is actually needed is for some of these dire consequences to occur. There is an air of disbelief. In a sense Senator Cox’s metaphor of “Chicken Little” is apt. There is a sense that some of the voters, residents, citizens of California believe that these things are never going to come to pass. That we will not shut down jobs, close down state agencies, and cease bridge construction mid-span.

They do not believe that the state will run out of cash. They do not believe that tens of thousands will be laid off. They do not believe that the state will default on loans. They do not believe that money for schools and prisons will cease. They do not believe.

The question that is unclear is whether the Republicans do not believe that the sky is falling, or if they know all too well and they do not care.

They should take heed. The lessons of history abound. The year was 1995, the Republicans had just taken over Congress. They believed they had a mandate to shrink the size of government, to end government as we knew. These revolutionaries stormed the barricades and believed they could do whatever they wanted.

They went toe-to-toe with President Clinton, they shut down the government, and they lost. They overreached. Their movement has died.

The people did not like big government, but they did not want their government shut down and its leaders bickering over who was to blame. They blamed the Republicans for this shutdown, their ideological fervor got the better of it. The people simply wanted a better government, not an ideological crusade.

The Republicans are making the same mistake again. No one wants more taxes. But few want to see California's government to cease to function.

In a way these are the last vestiges of this movement. The people of California do want their government to live within its means. But they also do not want vital services stopped and government to cease to function.

We are not talking about just a little bit of less government. Anyone who read Skelton the other day has to recognize how deep you have to cut to get to $42 billion. It’s not just a little snip here and there. You do not use a scalpel to perform this operation. You use a sledgehammer. A sledgehammer to put it mildly is a blunt instrument. Cut off $10 billion to education. Cut off billions to roads and bridges. Cut off billions to law enforcement. Cut tens of thousands of jobs to state workers who do things such as enforce the law, keep the inmates in prisons, hand out unemployment checks, process forms at the DMV, and the other vital functions that government performs on an everyday basis. Guess what—killing all of that, does not solve the problem.

The Republicans created their own budget in December using only spending cuts, they barely got halfway there and the cuts were deep and devastating.

Our plane is out of fuel. The passengers on that plane only has a small sense of what is to come. Unfortunately unlike the heroic Sullenberger, the pilots of this state, are arguing and bickering. Some of them appear to actually want the plane to crash. Only then will people realize the danger.

---David M. Greenwald reporting