Saturday, January 26, 2008

Politics and the "Noble Argument"

I've mentioned the noble argument in politics before (see my discussion of Proposition 92 at that link). Just the other day we received our "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ballot Proposition Voter Guide." It's actually written and backed by the California Republican Party, but Arnie is acting very "Republican" today, so his is the iconic image plastered on front.

He stands at a podium, surrounded by images of the Seal of the Great State of California. In the margin areas we see the California flag, images of the sea, hills, citrus fruit. A couple (very white, but what does that matter?) are obviously enjoying the bounties of California's natural wonders on a little day hike. And, of course, a highly visible admonition at the bottom to "Vote Tuesday, February 5th." Because, of course, what really matters is that people participate in the process.

The Governor himself is looking extremely noble. He stands as erect as an Olympian god, with a look on his face of a man who sees the far off future, and it is a glorious sight. This is what people like to refer to as a "presidential" look. "Arnie is looking very presidential today, isn't he?" is what people might be tempted to say when looking at this pamphlet.

And there, in large bold type, we see the same vision that Arnie is apparently seeing with that look:
"Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 will give California more than $9 billion for public safety, education and other vital services without any additional taxes or any new debt. I urge you to join me in voting YES for California." [Emphasis apparently Arnie's]
That's a lot of noble argument in one sentence. But it reminds me of something. Wait a minute... it'll come to me... where have I heard this sort of thing before... ?

Oh, yes. I remember now. I see this in my email's SPAM folder all the time. "You can be rich if you'll only help me repatriate this money that belonged to some poor (I'm sorry, did I say "poor?" I meant "rich!") dead man in Nigeria!" And many a wise soul (including my Dad) raised me to believe that whenever something sounds too good to be true, it generally is.

With that expertise at hand, I decided to dig a little deeper into Arnie's claim. After all, $9 billion is a pretty huge chunk of change, and it would indeed help California solve a lot of problems. Nice of the Governor, really, to mention education in his nobility argument, since he's never repaid the $2 billion that he "borrowed" when he first took office several years ago. Or if he has, the teacher unions have certainly pretended that he hasn't. Anyway, I'm assuming that with $9 billion coming into state coffers, education would be the first to benefit from all this free money coming in from four or five (count' em!) tribes.

My quest begins — and ends, really — with the state's web site. Here we can find the information that they publish in our official voter information guides. Here's a sample that covers Proposition 97. Here is what the supposedly non-partisan Legislative Analyst (boy, wouldn't that be a fun job!) has to say regarding the "ESTIMATE OF NET STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT FISCAL IMPACT:"
  • Net increase in annual state government revenues probably in the tens of millions of dollars, growing over time through 2030.
  • For local governments in Riverside County, potential net increase of revenues due to economic growth and potential increased payments from the tribe to offset higher costs.
Hmm. "...tens of millions of dollars, growing over time..." Each of the four propositions have the same statement. "Tens of millions." Not "billions" — "tens of millions."

So it would appear that Governor Schwarzenegger's statement of $9 billion swelling the state's treasury may be just a shade overstated. In fact, if reports are correct, Schwarzenegger is referring to the gaming industry as a whole in California, not the state of California itself. From these reports and others, plus my own analysis of the propositions in question, California taxpayers may expect to see somewhere in the vicinity of $500 million in increased state revenue, plus whatever the local governments may expect to see from the increase in slot machines should these initiatives pass.

$500 million is a long, long way from the $9 billion Governor Schwarzenegger would have us believe we can expect to see. In a state that at one point had the world's 7th largest economy, $500 million is still pocket change. Yes, that money would help, but I still insist that these revenues must be offset by the costs associated with gambling that no one ever wants to discuss: the ruined lives of addicted gamblers and their families; the tribal members who get nothing — not one red cent, so to speak — from the tribe's revenues; not to mention perpetuating the idea that gambling is somehow not only acceptable, but also a desirable way to spend one's hard-earned money. Come on... dig deep. Can you honestly tell me how many of your gambling friends ever come home from the casinos more than a few dollars ahead of where they started? Me, neither.

There's more to the pamphlet (remember the pamphlet?) as well. This is an eight page, full color extravaganza complete with a tear-out "POCKET VOTER GUIDE" that will help you remember on February 5th to join Arnie in voting YES. Inside, we hear from taxpayers organizations, business leaders, and public safety associations that all happen to agree with the Governor. All of them, it goes without saying, stand to receive a chunk of that money. I suspect they're all happy to get whatever comes their way. Whether it's a piece of $9 billion or $500 million, it's still money.

Saddest of all for me is the endorsement of Tom McClintock, the most conservative voice in the California Senate. It tells me something I already knew but have long wanted to ignore in the hopes it would one day disappear. Conservative politicians are moving away from their long-held beliefs in smaller government. By endorsing this kind of socially destructive behavior merely to get their hands on a few million dollars, they have sold out on their implied promises to streamline government and decrease our need to spend hard-earned tax money. This, in my mind, is the ultimate betrayal of the Governor's message. Reading between the lines, here's what I see:
Join me on February 5th in voting for my ability to retain as much fiscal power as I can possibly muster so that I can finally deliver on some of the "noble" promises I've been making — and breaking — since running for this office several years ago.
Nice try, guys. Uncle Woody still votes NO on Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97. You should, too.

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