Just in case anyone needs new evidence that California politicians worry far more about their own survival than that of the people they allegedly serve, check out the contributions for September to the Yes on Proposition 27 campaign.
Early September was when California legislators adjourned their session without passing a budget, likely meaning there will be none at least until after the November election. It was also when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that in his view, there was no need to call a special legislative session to pass a spending plan – and took off for six days in China.
Essentially, these politicians were giving many Californians the same message Queen Marie Antoinette conveyed to impoverished Frenchmen who could not afford to buy bread on the eve of that country’s 18th Century revolution: “Let them eat cake.”
For the lack of a budget will likely see the state once again issuing vouchers instead of checks within a month. Payments to schools and counties have been deferred, some health clinics are struggling to get by. And thousands of state contractors, large and small, won’t get paid for an indefinite time.
Here’s what one of them, a child care provider in the Northern California town of Shasta Lake, said in a letter on the day the lawmakers adjourned: “I am on the verge of losing my house as well as my business license because of the lack of a state budget…the state is holding from me three quarters of my income. I have three kids of my own, my husband works, but his income combined with what is left of mine doesn’t cover what the bank wants, let alone the utilities, food, insurance, etc. I wonder, does the governor really realize to what extent the lack of a state budget is hurting people?”
Apparently not. He was off to the Far East with no budget in place. Not to worry, the $180,000 Bentley he drives now that Hummers are passé is not threatened.
Legislators show similar disinterest. But they are plenty interested in their own survival.
They made this plain by donating more than $500,000 from their campaign war chests to the drive for Proposition 27, which would eliminate the 14-person citizens redistricting commission set up under a 2008 ballot initiative. Proposition 27 would throw the once-a-decade reapportionment of legislative seats back into the hands of the same lawmakers whose fate can depend on how district lines are drawn.
The contributions all came from Democrats, including Assembly Speaker John Perez and fellow pols like Mike Eng, Charles Calderon, Bob Blumenfield, and Alex Padilla, each of whom had previously given $10,000 or more to the campaign for 27. Meanwhile, Republican billionaire Charles Munger Jr., whose daddy partners with investor Warren Buffett, kicked in $3.3 million to defeat it.
Republicans clearly hope lines drawn by the citizens commission will be better for them than anything the Democratic-dominated Legislature might come up with. But demographics dictate there will likely be little change in the Legislature’s makeup no matter who draws the lines. No commission can change the way people of similar background, outlook, and economic status tend to cluster.
The same Democrats fighting to pass 27 are also focused on beating back Proposition 20, a Munger-financed initiative aiming to expand the citizens commission’s power and let it draw congressional district lines in addition to those for the state Assembly and Senate.
Republican politicians are staying out of this fight, too, but not Democrats. So far, the roster of pols whose committees have plunked down $10,000 or more to pass 27 and defeat 20 includes prospective Congressmember and former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass ($50,000) and Congress member Judy Chu ($500,000), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Anna Eshoo, Lois Capps, Diane Watson, Linda Sanchez, Laura Richardson, Doris Matsui, Zoe Lofgren, Howard Berman, Sam Farr, and Mike Honda. All but Chu and Bass are in for $10,000 apiece. They fear district lines drawn by anyone but their party mates in the Legislature. Biggest donor to their cause is movie producer Haim Saban, who popped for $2 million, while labor unions have put up more than $1.5 million.
All of which means the airwaves will be filled with ads on these arcane-seeming propositions long before California has a budget and can resume paying many of the people and companies who do the state’s work.
Chalk it up to venal politicians acting in their own self-interest while paying little heed to the real needs of the people they supposedly serve.