It’s funny sometimes what sort of information gets thrown at you on the Internet. It was Wednesday afternoon and I began reading an article in the Nation magazine about the budget crisis in California. The situation sounds bad, real bad. I’m from California and I know that the place has gone through hard times before. The sense of urgency and distress in the article, however, was new to me.
The tax base is basically crumbling away and the state legislature can’t do a thing about it. The term Prop 13 was mentioned numerous times, and not in a very good way. I grew up in a nice suburb of L.A. and Howard Jarvis and his Prop 13 were household names, names that put a twinkle in my parents eye.
In 1978 state voters passed the initiative that limited property tax rates. My parents profited for decades by having an extremely low property tax. The state as a whole, however, has suffered because of the missing tax revenues. One lesser known part of the initiative was that the legislature could pass tax increases only with a two-thirds majority. Tax reductions, on the other hand, could be passed with a simple majority. The obvious result is that California has been decreasing taxes for ages, but has failed to increase taxes.
Of course Californians are creative and innovative and figured out other ways of increasing state revenue. The infamous bond initiatives are one tool. Californians are presented at every election with a list of bond initiatives which allow the state to borrow more money to fund education, health, or whatever.
Today in California the situation is critical. Community hospitals are closing, judges are donating parts of their salaries to help keep the courts open, public schools are in shambles. The government, though, is unable to respond. It reminds me of the inability of the Italian government to pass any laws because of the complex coalition of small political parties.
In her Nation article (http://www.thenation.com/...) from January 21, 2010, Sasha Abramsky notes how there is a Mad Max feeling in many neighborhoods. The public sector is dysfunctional. The government simply doesn’t work. The place is going broke. Hopefully my fellow Californians are not planning on having the federal government bail them out. Obama just announced an across-the-board spending freeze (of course military spending is excluded) and received enthusiastic applause from both sides of the aisle.
How can this be in the land of Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Michael Jackson and Joan Kroc? There are so many rich people in this state. There is, still, a strong middle class, a thriving agriculture industry and, unfortunately, a massive military industry. The potential tax revenues from the film industry alone must be enough to save hundreds of community hospitals.
Now comes the funny part. After reading that article I felt a sudden excitement as I remembered that Apple Computer was having a “Special Event” in San Francisco. I quickly clicked over to Apple’s website and with rushing adrenaline read, gazed, watched and drooled over the newest technical wonder from Cupertino, the iPad Air. It’s just a piece of aluminium with a glass cover and a bunch of tiny electronics inside. Not much? Well, it’s enough to get my blood pumping and I bet I’m not alone. Will this thin rectangular thing manage to come close to the mania that surrounded the introduction of the iPhone in 2007? I don’t know, but I’m pretty darn certain that it will stuff Apple’s coffers so full of cash that they won’t have any room to carry his new iPad. Am I a cynic? Am I deriding the ingenuity and innovation that makes America great?
Yes, I am. It’s just crazy. The state is going broke, the industry is reeling in the profits and the legislature is unable or unwilling to respond. What about the voters? Why are they not up in arms? Don’t they care about their schools, their fire departments, their bridges and their drinking water? The apathy is certainly running at an all time high. With so much inaction, incompetence and corruption in politics who can blame them? Is that the whole story though? Or is there a hidden story beneath all that adrenaline pumping through my blood when I await Apple’s next technological messiah? Are we all so busy shopping, are we all so consumed with our consumption that we don’t even consider standing up and saying, “Stop. This is enough!”?