Thursday, January 7, 2010

California hurts

In California, the governor has proposed a constitutional amendment that would require 10 percent of operating funds be spent on the public universities. It's no secret that California higher education is in desperate fiscal straits and that reform is needed. From that amount of money alone, the plan sounds good (although let's not look too closely at the details, which involve addenda such as privatizing prisons, or the fact that it leaves out community colleges). Still, I find myself thinking this is not a good idea.

California's fiscal crisis has come on because the state is hamstrung in how it can spend its money and in what revenue it can raise in the first place. The ease of creating ballot propositions have led the state to cut property taxes and led to a host of partially funded programs and spending mandates. The folks in Sacramento ostensibly creating the budget have less say in how California's money is spent than in practically any other state, and any attempt to raise taxes to meet these spending needs is resisted.

Hey, I'm a tax-and-spend liberal. But you can't spend unless you tax, and you can't take all the power to make spending decisions away from the experts. It's not that average California citizens are stupid or ignorant. It's that thinking about the state budget is not anywhere close to their full-time occupation. Expertise ought to produce better spending decisions than voting a couple of times a year for what you want. (And if it doesn't - well, there goes any argument against supporting higher education. What do we need experts for?)

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