I've gotten a pretty strong stomach after 25 years of political reporting, but when I read stuff like this, I reall want to throw up. It's not just pandering or corruption or sleaze -- that shit's common enough, and I can deal. It's this utter, blatant, mind-boggling lack of reality that makes me start to lose my lunch.
(Pretty good lunch, too -- I made myself a nice turkey sandwich with havarti cheese and mayo, on a crispy roll, bag o' chips, bottle of sparkling Calistoga -- hate to see it come back up again.)
But please, folks: Cannot anyone running for governor of California be remotely honest about the budget problem? These people are not fools; Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have run businesses. Jerry Brown has been governor before, and has been a mayor. They know how budgets work. And they know this:
You cannot -- cannot -- solve a $19 billion budget deficit by reducing waste and fraud. Even Schwarzenegger admits that:
Shortly after taking office, Schwarzenegger also promised to find billions in fraud through a top-to-bottom review of state government. But after the 2006 review, Schwarzenegger admitted his advisers "did not find the kind of abuse that I thought there is."
There's not $19 billion worth of bureaucratic waste, either. It's just not there.
There are only two options to make this state fiscally sound again: Fundamentally restructure what the state of California does (that means, for example, eliminating most of the social safety net, giving up on public education and releasing about half the prison population), or raise taxes.
Only two options. Anyone with any sense knows that; as my friend and colleague Johnny Angel Wendell likes to say, it's just simple math.
And yet nobody's talking about it. Nobody's even coming close. And the press isn't pushing all that hard, either.
I was pleased to see that my old pal Jerry Brown saying that "those with the biggest belts" should tighten them. At least that has a tiny nod to the notion that some people are better off than others and the rich ought to pay more than the poor. But what the hell does it mean?
I called Jerry's campaign office this afternoon and asked Sterling Clifford, his press person, to help me out a little. Is Brown saying that he thinks the wealthy should pay more taxes?
Actually, no: "I think he has been very clear that there will be no new taxes unless the people vote on them," Clifford told me.
Okay, so does that mean he's going to cut the budget of the biggest departments -- say, the prison system? Well, no: "He intends to enter the budget negotiations with the Legislature with all options on the table."
Shit. How about restoring the Vehicle License Fee to what it was before Schwarzenegger rolled it back? That a good Jerry Brown issue, environmentally sound. How about it? "I don't know," Clifford said. "I've never asked him about it."
Well, you should, Sterling, and so should every reporter who sees him at every press event and every activist who sees him at every rally. And the same goes for Meg and Steve. These people are acting delusional -- and we just have to call them on it.
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