Don't Cry For Me California

On the heels of Gov. Brown's failure to put a tax increase measure on the ballot (I have to raise taxes! The People say so!), there is a new poll out purporting to "prove" that large majorities of Californians - 78%! - favor raising taxes on (hissss) "the rich" to solve our budget problems. I had no idea it was so easy!

With negotiations over how to solve California's $26.6 billion state budget deficit stalled, a new poll released today shows strong bipartisan support for something Sacramento lawmakers this year haven't seriously debated: raising taxes on the wealthiest residents.

Seventy-eight percent of likely California voters support a 1 percent increase in the income tax rate for Californians earning more than $500,000 a year, according to the poll, which was conducted by Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin and sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers.

A one percentage point increase, which would raise an estimated $2.5 billion a year, offers a possible Plan B for helping solve the budget deficit, with 60 percent of Republican respondents and 79 percent of independents and other voters backing it, along with 89 percent of Democrats. The maximum income tax rate is 9.55 percent, according to the Californian Franchise Tax Board.

"There is a populist anger out there that cuts across all lines," Tulchin said. Many voters felt it was unfair that the wealthiest Americans got their Bush-era tax cuts extended last year.

"They see that these (state) service cuts would affect middle-class and lower-class people, and they want rich people to pay their fair share," Tulchin said.

Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Association, said, "Those are the highest numbers I've ever seen. On a tax scale - that's pretty much a perfect score."

The poll also says that 60% of Republicans support raising taxes on the top 1%, which I simply don't believe unless the pollsters suggested targeting only limousine liberals like Michael Moore. The poll, I might add, was commissioned by the California Federation of Teachers, so there's a chance that the poll's methodology might be off. Also you have to love the "no one has considered raising taxes on the rich, yet" spin. That may be true this year, but that's because we're dealing with the results of raising taxes for the past God-knows-how-many years.

Still, the poll does highlight that California's fiscal problems go beyond the progressive politicians who have largely held sway during the period of the state's decline. Just as we can't reduce the federal budget by cutting foreign aid (or NPR), we also can't balance California's budget by taxing (hissss) "the rich" for the simple reason that the rich are not rich enough. It's the sort of thing that makes sense to a loudmouth arguing at a bar, but has no bearing on reality. Unfortunately, liberals - for all of their pretensions to being the intellectual, rational party - are masters at "drunks at the bar" politics.

Rather than being "like" Greece, California is in danger of becoming another Argentina with its persistent fiscal crises, deeply ingrained leftist politics, a demographic mix of a rural population lorded over by a couple big cities, and a popular culture that prizes the glib and the glamorous, not to mention plenty of opportunities to walk along the Appalachian Trail. Ignorance is as much at the root of California's ills as imprudence.

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