A lot of the reports about California's budget crisis make it seem as though the state is flat on its back and we are simply broke. A lot of public opinion reflects this view, for example a letter to the editor I read this morning, stating that "the taxpayers of California have simply run out of money and can't afford the likes of unsustainable government pensions and wasteful social programs." The fact is, however, that we have not "run out of money." When you do the math and divide the approximately $24 billion that the state is short by approximately 36 million Californians, you find out that we are actually only short about $650 each. Yes, that might be more than $2000 per family, a considerable sum for a lot of people, even an impossible sum for millions of people, but a manageable amount for a lot of others, and a trivial amount for quite a few people. Certainly, not all of us are broke.
Furthermore, when you actually do the math, you find that to close a $24 billion budget gap without raising taxes, drastic cuts in services would be required. But relatively modest tax increases make it a much easier job. Here for example is a tool the LA Times put out to allow you to fiddle with the budget deficit yourself. This forces anyone trying it to decide whether to shorten the school year, or close the state parks, or parole a lot of prisoners, and a whole lot of other things that might need to be cut to close the budget gap. Performing this exercise should help people discover that any fair attempt to solve the problem by relying solely on spending cuts would cost many people much more than their $650 share of the budget deficit. For example, a state employee who must be fired to help meet budget might bear 50 times their fair share of the state's fiscal shortfall. A community college student may be asked to pay more than their $650 share of the budget shortfall just to stay in school. So anyone who says the state should not raise their taxes by even another dollar is really saying that state employees and those who benefit from state services (which actually is all of us) should accept all of the sacrifice, but taxpayers should accept none.
A reasonable combination of tax increases and budget cuts could solve the state's budget problem in a still painful but more fair way, but the State Legislature is unable to agree on any kind of reasonable combination because the minority has the power to prevent that. The majority is being asked to bend to the minority's will, and is understandably frustrated at being asked to do that, particularly since the pain of relying solely on budget cuts will be so severe, while the pain of relying in part on tax increases should be more manageable. In short, although there is no free way to solve this budget problem, no one should be under the illusion that it is an unsolveable problem, or that we Californians, taken as a group of 36 million people, are simply too broke to solve it. We're not.
(Chart from the Ojai Post)