WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A MISSING DETAIL…. Several months ago, the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat argued that California is a mess because it’s been “liberalism’s favorite laboratory.” The column said the Golden State was “long a paradise for regulators and public-sector unions,” but has since become “a fiscal disaster area.”
The column didn’t mention Prop 13, passed in 1978, which ended up throwing the state’s finances into turmoil.
Yesterday, George Will echoed Douthat in his column, making the same argument, with even some of the same language. While Douthat called California “liberalism’s favorite laboratory,” Will described the state as “a laboratory of liberalism.”
The WaPo‘s widely syndicated columnist concluded that California’s economy “is being suffocated by the weight of government.” It may become “a failed state,” and it’s all liberals’ fault, Will argued.
Joe Klein noted Will’s omission.
How on earth Will can write a column about the problems in California without even mentioning Proposition 13 — the 1978 ballot measure that severely limited local property taxes — is beyond me. Prop 13 has distorted revenue gathering, severely limiting the amounts that localities can pay for schools and other public services, forcing the state to take on an increased burden. In the end, California is an Exhibit A of a public pathology that we’ve inherited from the Reagan Era: the public wants a modified welfare state, excellent schools, a clean environment, low college tuitions…but it’s not willing to pay for them.
Adam Shah also summarized this nicely: “California’s tax structure as well as its inability to raise enough revenue to cover its budget is the result of conservatives getting their way on taxes, not liberalism gone wild.”
How did Will address this overwhelmingly-important aspect of the debate in his column? He didn’t — he simply pretended the detail didn’t exist. And, as usual, his editors didn’t seem to mind.