Political Animal

BONDS, MORE BONDS!….It’s true: California

BONDS, MORE BONDS!….It’s true: California has no constitutional requirement to have a balanced budget. Devra points me here, where we’re told:

The State Constitution requires that the Governor submit a budget to the Legislature by January 10. It provides for a balanced budget in that, if the proposed expenditures for the budget year exceed available resources, the Governor is required to recommend the sources for the additional funding.

….

Although there is no constitutional requirement for passage of a balanced budget, Government Code Section 13337.5 requires that projected expenditures shall not exceed projected revenues.

So Gray Davis has to propose a balanced budget, but the legislature doesn’t have to pass it. If they felt like it, they could simply add an amendment to the budget bill stating that Government Code Section 13337.5 is suspended for the year.

This is really cool. I ask questions about the California budget and other bloggers step up with the answers. I wish I could improve my tennis game that easily.

TAXING TIMES FOR SINGLE PEOPLE….My

TAXING TIMES FOR SINGLE PEOPLE….My sister is always complaining about this, so here’s one more problem with the Bush tax plan: it does nothing for single people. My sister is unmarried and has no children, so neither the marriage penalty reform nor the child tax credit do her any good. Her income is moderate, so the rate cuts barely affect her, and she owns no stocks, so the dividend tax elimination brings her no joy.

This is actually a bipartisan complaint: both parties spend almost limitless time competing to tell everyone about how pro-family they are, but the unmentioned losers are all the single people who aren’t numerous enough or organized enough to make themselves heard. When will someone start sticking up for the Sex and the City crowd?

PLAN? WHAT PLAN?….Patrick Ruffini reports

PLAN? WHAT PLAN?….Patrick Ruffini reports that a poll by Public Opinion Strategies shows that the Bush economic plan is preferred to the Democratic plan by 51%-41%.

I’ve got one question: do they really expect us to believe that 92% of the electorate has an opinion on this? That 92% of the electorate has even heard of Bush’s economic plan, let alone that the Democrats have a competing plan?

CLASS WARFARE….There’s been a fair

CLASS WARFARE….There’s been a fair amount of comment about David Brooks’ op-ed in the New York Times yesterday in which he says Democrats should give up complaining about tax cuts for the rich. The most popular quote, of course, was this one:

Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday. So right away you have 39 percent of Americans who thought that when Mr. Gore savaged a plan that favored the top 1 percent, he was taking a direct shot at them.

But I think his summary paragraph is more important:

[Democratic presidential candidates] haven’t learned what Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt and even Bill Clinton knew: that you can run against rich people, but only those who have betrayed the ideal of fair competition.

I don’t have any cosmic argument to make here, but my gut tells me that he’s right. Even in 1920, when there were lots of poor people ? and they were really poor back then ? it only occasionally worked to explicitly run against the rich. And sure, during the Depression it worked, but if it takes 25% unemployment to get people to respond to this message, it’s not going to work any time in the near future.

A common suggestion among liberal bloggers is that we should use actual numbers instead of percentages. Tell those people who make $50,000 a year that they aren’t in the top 1% and aren’t going to get there any time soon: they’ll have to make $400,000 a year before they have that honor. That ought to get their attention!

Maybe, and I imagine it’s better than saying “top 1%,” but I think it still misses the point. Brooks is right: fighting for social and economic policies that level the playing field may be the right thing to do, but we won’t get it by explicitly appealing to resentment of the rich. That resentment just isn’t very intense unless people feel that there’s some fundamental unfairness at work, and shooting the messenger won’t change that.

For example: fighting to raise the minimum wage is good politics, but charts showing how the minimum wage has declined over time won’t do the trick. Unfairness, however might: those CEOs have given themselves whopping pay raises, but they greedily refuse to share the good times with the hardworking folks at the bottom who make their companies run! It’s cheating and unfairness that will get people riled up, not richness by itself.

Maybe that will work, maybe it won’t. But complaining about the “richest 1%” looks more and more like an electoral loser to me.

POSTSCRIPT: Here’s an article by Brooks from The Atlantic last November that expands on his idea.