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The Republican Contract on California

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We get to vote, again, on May 19. This time we have a bunch of ballot initiatives that the Republican Party demanded as a condition of reaching a budget “compromise” last winter. The commercial media tell us that most of these measures are failing in polling, but still have a chance at passage.


Still have a chance?!? What on earth are people thinking?

Have we completely lost touch with what happened last fall? Remember the election in which we gave the United States its (our!) first black president? Remember promises to end old ways of politicking? Remember change we can believe in?

Remember where these ballot measures came from. The Democratic Party majority in the California legislature wanted to enact a budget and address the increasingly dire financial condition of our great state. But Republicans refused to go along with anything the Democrats proposed.

Republicans were able to filibuster the budget process because California doesn’t allow a majority to govern. Instead, in California, budgets must pass by a “super majority”. If the people who want a budget can’t round up 2/3 support in the legislature, a minority can block reform, block sensibility, block fairness. And that’s what Republican’s did.

Finally, as the Republicans saw public anger building, they agreed to some half-hearted budget measures, but only on condition that voters be confronted with a bunch of “reform” ballot measures. The people who forced these measures onto the May 19 ballot are the same people who held up Dick Cheney as a sterling example of political morality, Larry Craig as a model of personal conduct, and Newt Gingrich as their standard bearer for marital fidelity. Should we believe that what they want us to vote for on May 19 can possibly be good for us?

The most revealing measures on the May 19 ballot are measures 1C, 1D and 1E. But the other measures were written with the same thinking and long-term goals. Measures 1C, D, and E are key measures in the Republican long-term plan to destroy and end public education in California and to end even the flimsiest tatters of a social safety net for the poorest, most helpless of our state’s children.

Measure 1C would do two things. First it would take the education money out of lottery proceeds. Second, it would give some of that money to Republican bankers in the form of interest payments.

The lottery was originally enacted to help fund education. The promise was that when we gambled, half of every dollar spent on lottery sales would go to schools. Gambling makes most of its business with the poor. The legislature followed passage of the lottery with reductions in general budget expenditures for schools. So, the lottery shifted a big hunk of our state’s payment of school expenses from general budgets to the poorest parts of our society.

But now that they have the lottery system in place for gathering more money from the poor, Republicans want to make sure that that money does not go to education. But they need voter approval to end education spending from lottery earnings. So Measure 1C is packaged to be a “temporary” end to using lottery money for education. As soon as the economy recovers, they say, they will go back to spending money on schools. How believable is that?

Look at the track record. Gropenator Schwarzenegger came in to office on a promise of fixing a budget mess which had been created by electricity deregulation. When conservatives pushed electricity deregulation through the legislature, we were told that electric rates would plummet. Instead they soared. Investors rolled in the dough. Enron became a high flier. And after the crash, investigations revealed that, even with skyrocketing profits, the deregulated companies cheated every chance they could on the few regulations which remained.

The Gropenator said he was going fix things. The first thing he fixed was auto registration fees. Because he felt gas guzzlers shouldn’t pay for the environmental costs they inflict on society, he rolled back registration fees. And to pay for the budget damage this did, he slashed education spending. He promised that his education slashes would be temporary. They just haven’t been as temporary as his promises.

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Now, as our teachers, administrators, and students suffer under the first and second round of Schwarzenegger cuts to education spending, we are asked to vote for a complete (but “temporary”) end to using lottery money for education. Can anyone truly believe that the Gropenator or his party have any intention, ever of giving any of that money back to schools and student?

To make sure that there is no money to give back to students, the second part of Measure 1C authorizes the Gropenator to “borrow” money from “future” lottery income. In simple English, what that means is that we borrow money from big money sources with the promise that they will be paid back, with interest, from future lottery ticket sales.

That’s the same as borrowing money to buy a house, and promising to pay it back from future payroll earnings. When you borrow money with a promise to pay from future earnings, you limit what else you can spend those future earnings on. By getting the voters to promise that future lottery sales will be used to pay interest to money lenders, this Republican measure guarantees that that money can’t be spent on education.

Measure 1D takes a similar hatchet to programs which help poor and disabled children. Again, the intentionally false promise is that slashing of help for disadvantaged children will only be “temporary.” But nothing in Measure 1D guarantees that any cuts will be temporary. And as Republicans continue to demand tax breaks for yachts and private airplanes, there is no reason to imagine that they will ever support reestablishing any support for programs for disabled children. Measure 1E does the same to Mental Health Program spending.

One ballot measure the Republicans would not permit the voters to vote on is a measure to end the “super majority” requirement for budget decisions. After all the talk about wanting the voters to decide important financial issues, the Republicans wouldn’t let the voters decide on the question of ending the “super majority” scheme for holding up real budget reforms.

The May 19 ballot measures are consistent with earlier Republican financial measures. Remember Newt Gingrich’s “Contract On America”? That was sold to people as a way to fix the financial problems of the Clinton administration. Remember those problems? Those budget surpluses that the Republicans thought were so bad?

Republican plans and their Contract On America sure fixed the problems. We went, in half a decade, from hundreds of billions of dollars in surplus to more than a trillion in deficit, through the Republican financial devices of no-bid contracts and off-the-books war funding.

Now the same folks who brought us no-bid boondoggles, $700 billion in bank bailouts with no oversight or accountability, and 30% of every health insurance dollar going to corporate profits, before any health care spending, want us to buy a package of ballot measures which will shift even more of our government money into interest payments for bankers and bond buyers. As one of the great Republican presidents once said: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice,.. won’t get fooled,…a mind is a terrible thing to use.”

The official statement for Measure 1C ends by saying the measure “would likely make it more difficult to balance future state budgets.” That really tells you all you need to know about these Republican measures. They are designed to get us to vote against our own interests.

Tom Hall

Been there. Done that. No Thanks. Not again.

Tom Hall