Californians have before them what are now known as “fiscal cliffs,” representing a wave of automatic budget cuts, triggered by the failure of Democrats and Republicans to reach agreements.
In both Washington D.C. and Sacramento, the chances of a bipartisan deal were frustrated by differences regarding how to tackle the fiscal deficit.
Republicans believe that fiscal balance can be reached exclusively through budget and tax cuts, while Democrats think the formula is a reasonable combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
The lack of a common vision to reduce the deficit led to the idea of establishing automatic cuts to the federal budget of $120 billion coupled with tax hikes. Half the cuts are to defense and the other half to social programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the impact of this action could push the country back into recession.
A similar danger looms in California.
In this case, legislative paralysis led Governor Brown to bet on voters accepting a tax increase to balance the books. If not, the lack of those funds is going to mean a $5.2 billion reduction for the K-12 school system and community colleges, as well as $250 million less for state universities.
It is sad that political polarization has led to the need for actions equivalent to holding a gun to the heads of Americans.
In Washington, this dynamic is repeated between the Republican House majority and the White House in a high stakes game on chicken on the way to the cliff. It is frustrating to be governed in this manner, to have priorities established in this way rather than through political consensus.
The outcome of the presidential election should set the tone in terms of which approach, the Democrats’ or the Republicans’, should prevail in the November and December negotiations over the federal deficit. The same will happen in California, with the success or failure of Proposition 30.
This is a double opportunity for California voters to decide between the two partisan strategies for dealing with the deficit. They should remember that this is not a theoretical exercise, but one that will have a direct impact on their quality of life.