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2005 ESSAYS

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2003 ESSAYS

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2003 Essays - September

    *This section includes two separate pieces. The September 2003 essay, "Politicians, Personalities and California's October 7 Plebiscite: Do You Recall . . .?" is immediately below. Further down the page is a website poem which appeared before the 2003 recall election called "The California Recall Raven." One may scroll down the page to reach the poem, or click here. PLEASE NOTE: THE ESSAY HAS NOT BEEN UPDATED TO REFLECT ANY CHANGES WHICH MIGHT HAVE TAKEN PLACE SINCE IT FIRST APPEARED IN 2003.*

POLITICIANS, PERSONALITIES AND CALIFORNIA'S OCTOBER 7 PLEBISCITE: DO YOU RECALL . . . ?

    Along with Arnold and Arianna, Californians might be surprised to find a few more familiar names on the lengthy ballot this October than they expected. Michael Jackson and Robert Dole are both running. (That's Michael Jackson, satellite project manager, and Robert Dole, small business owner.) Before stepping into the booth, voters can also check out the websites of feinsteinforgov.com (Dan Feinstein, that is), kennedygov.com (businessman/educator Edward Kennedy), or Grishamforgovernor.com (though one's not likely to find any legal thrillers at this site for musician/laborer Jack Lloyd Grisham). But once a voter gets through the 135-name list, he or she will have to select just one person to serve as the state's new chief officer should the current governor, Gray Davis, be recalled.

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    This month's essay is not so much a single piece of writing as it is a compilation of information and thoughts on the October 7th recall election in California. Whatever the results, it will set precedents for the state. There has never been a state-wide recall campaign for governor which has made it to the ballot, especially at as critical a time in the state's economy and future.

    So . . . if you choose to read on, three sections will follow. First, the basic October 7th "ground rules" for voters will be explained, and links to non-partisan sites with relevant election information will be highlighted. After that there will be a brief look at the 2002 general election results - how Gray Davis was re-elected and what that might mean in this special election. Finally, a seven-page section from the 2003 - 2004 Governor's Budget Summary will be presented verbatim. The section is entitled "A New Fiscal Blueprint for California's Future: A Call for Structural Reform." In it a "call to action" is made for "changes in the way we do business and government in this state." Read it for yourself, and listen to what the candidates and those for and against the recall are saying. Whatever you decide is best for California, make sure you do one thing -- GET OUT AND VOTE ON OCTOBER THE 7TH!!

"The Mostar Bridge" 1984, 2005 Dorothy A. Birsic

GROUND RULES FOR VOTERS

    The actual laws governing recall elections in California are found in Article 11 of the State's Constitution and Section 11000 of the California Code of Elections. In the portion of 11000 called "General [Recall] Procedures: Final Steps" are four straightforward sections governing the choices made on election day. These "rules" state:

  • Section 11382: Vote for candidate conditioned on vote on recall: No vote cast in the recall election shall be counted for any candidate unless the voter also voted for or against the recall of the officer sought to be recalled

  • Section 11383: Negative votes necessary for retention of office: If one-half or more of the votes at a recall election are "no", the officer sought to be recalled shall continue in office.

  • Section 11384: Removal from office if majority vote for recall: If a majority of votes on a recall proposal are "yes", the officer sought to be recalled shall be removed from office upon qualification of his successor.

  • Section 11385: Votes necessary to elect candidate after recall of officer: If at a recall election an officer is recalled, the candidate receiving the highest number of votes for the office shall be declared elected for the unexpired term of the recalled officer.

    Several phrases like "A candidate with only 15 percent of the vote could be elected governor" have been repeated in the press and popular media. This in essence is true. In fact, if the recall passes, a candidate receiving only ten percent of the vote could be elected if he or she receives the highest number of votes after all the ballots have been tallied. Intuitively, this seems to favor the core groups of voters from both major parties who consistently come out to the polls and support the party-line candidates. With the sheer number and diversity of candidates this year, though, who knows? The trends for voter turnout in state-wide special elections are not encouraging, however.

If you'd like to read more about the October 7 election, visit the State of California Secretary of State's Office, Election Division (www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections.htm) or the League of Women Voters site, http://www.smartvoter.org/. Anyone interested in registering to vote in the election may do so at the Secretary of State's website or at their county Registrar of Voters until September 22.

SPECIAL ELECTIONS AND THE 2002 GENERAL ELECTION

    In the Statement of Vote 2002 General Elections published by the California Secretary of State's office, a chart is included showing voter turnout at statewide elections for almost 100 years. According to that information, only three statewide special elections have been held since 1970. In the first, on November 6, 1973, about 48% of registered voters turned out to vote, or a mere 32% of all eligible voters. The results in the next special election, held November 6, 1979, were even worse. Only 37% of those registered voted, representing just a quarter of all eligible voters in the state. In the third, held November 2, 1993, the results were about the same. Thirty six percent of all registered voters, or about 28% of all eligible voters, showed up at the polls. Will October 7 be important enough to Californians to significantly change this trend? Only time will tell.

    However, if the last general election (in which Gray Davis was re-elected) is any indication, the prospects are not good. According to the same voting statistics cited earlier, the turnout of registered voters in the 2002 general election was 50.75%. This was the lowest turnout of registered voters in any regular statewide election since at least 1912. Although Davis beat his main (Republican) challenger Bill Simon 47 - 42%, he carried only 14 of 58 counties, primarily in northern California. He won a majority of the vote in Los Angeles County, but received a statewide total of 3,533,490 votes -- which, interestingly, is less than the total number of registered voters in Los Angeles County alone (3,976,189).

    Still, a majority of voters did vote in the 2002 election. Like it or not, the governor was elected fairly and democratically. And like it or not, voter dissatisfaction with his performance in office seems only to have grown since that time. Despite the efforts of some recall opponents to portray the October election as an attempt to "steal" the governor's office away from Gray Davis, the recall process is also a fair and democratic one. What Californians are presented with now is the opportunity to either reaffirm their 2002 decision or overturn it, at least as far as the governor's office is concerned. So what was said before bears repeating: GET OUT AND VOTE ON OCTOBER THE 7TH!!!.

"Monaco" 1984, 2005 Dorothy A. Birsic

THE CALIFORNIA ECONOMY AND THE CALIFORNIA BUDGET

    OK, so the economy's not everything. There are enough issues confronting the state and its leadership to fill up several websites. The state's economy is, however, one of the primary sources of dissatisfaction cited by many in evaluating the current governor's performance in office. As to what ails the state . . . well, here is something which appeared in the 2003-2004 Governor's Budget Summary. Do the proposals here adequately diagnose and address the problems California faces? And how much of this can any one governor (regardless of who it is) be responsible for on his or her own? You be the judge.

*            *            *

"A NEW FISCAL BLUEPRINT FOR CALIFORNIA'S FUTURE: A CALL FOR STRUCTURAL REFORM

    For over 50 years California has built its economy on a foundation laid by the leadership of Governors like Earl Warren and Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and the legislative leaders of those eras. Roads and highways, water and sewer systems, and the world's most advanced higher education system were all part of an unparalleled commitment to California's future. It was a foundation for success that worked.

    Over the years, however, this foundation has been obscured by an endless layering of new laws on top of old, with little thought of how State government would retain its ability to meet modern conditions and provide for the needs of citizens, coping with our changing economy and complex demographics.

    Most recently, the State's ability to meet the needs of California citizens has been compromised by the severe volatility of State revenues. The volatility has significantly constrained the ability of the State to support necessary public investments to sustain economic growth in California.

    Faced with the challenge of closing a $34.6 billion budget shortfall, some will choose to view the budget problem as a crisis of the moment. Closing the immediate budget gap is not enough, however. Policymakers must seize this opportunity to develop a new fiscal blueprint for California. We must view the budget problem as a moment of opportunity and design a new foundation for meeting the continuing physical infrastructure and human resources demands of California. The availability of educational opportunities, access to health care, the public health and safety of our communities, and the protection of our natural resources and environment all depend on undertaking the effort.

California's Current Fiscal Blueprint is Obsolete and Irrational

    For more than half a century, California's economy has fundamentally changed in response to global market forces. Defense spending fueled California's economy in the 1950s and 1960s. High technology and other manufacturing industries emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. Although defense spending increased briefly in the 1980s, the downsizing of this industry, particularly aerospace manufacturing and services, led to the deep recession of the early 1990s. Other sectors in California's economy began to take hold during the 1980s. Foreign trade, high-technology manufacturing, professional services, and tourism and entertainment, helped to diversify and advance the state's economic base throughout the 1990s.

    To support the changing California economy, public investments were made in the State's physical infrastructure and human resources. Many studies have noted the significant public investment commitment made in the 1950s and 1960s, including major expansions of the University of California, California State University, and the California Community Colleges; the construction of the State Water Project, road, and highways; and a number of social welfare improvements.

    The 1970s were marked by rapid inflation in consumer prices and wages, as well as increases in home values, with many property tax bills increasing as much as 40 percent over a few years. This large increase in property assessments led to a taxpayer initiative, Proposition 13, on the June 1978 statewide ballot. Overwhelmingly approved by California voters, Proposition 13 cut local property taxes statewide by over 50 percent and limited the rate of property tax growth, resulting in a dramatic drop in revenue to counties, cities, special districts, and schools. To avoid financial disaster for local governments, lawmakers cut State spending and "bailed out" local governments with the State's then multi-billion dollar surplus.

    Propsition 13 dramatically altered the landscape of State and local finance. It halted the unprecedented level of spending for roads, highways, and colleges and universities, cutting short this investment in the State's infrastructure. More importantly, Proposition 13 encouraged a 25-year epoch of ballot-box propositions that have continued to complicate State and local financing, including the following examples:

  • Proposition 4, approved by voters in November 1979, limited annual increases in State and local spending to inflation and population growth.

  • Propositions 6 and 7, approved by voters in June 1982, abolished the State gift and inheritance taxes and indexed State income taxes to inflation, respectively.

  • Proposition 37, approved by voters in November 1984, established the State Lottery and dedicated revenues to education.

  • Proposition 62, approved by voters in November 1986, requires two-thirds approval by a local governing body and major voter approval for new local general taxes.

  • Proposition 98, approved by voters in November 1988, established a minimum State funding level of K-12 schools and community colleges.

  • Proposition 99, approved by voters in November 1988, imposed a surtax on cigarettes (25 cent) and other tobacco products to generate revenues for primarily health-related purposes.

  • Proposition 163, approved by voters in November 1992, repealed the "snack tax" and limited the taxation on certain food items.

  • Proposition 172, approved by voters in November 1992, imposed a one-half cent sales tax increase to generate revenues for local public safety purposes.

  • Proposition 218, approved by voters in November 1996, limited the authority of local governments to impose taxes, assessments, fees, and charges and clarified that local general taxes and special taxes require majority and two-thirds voter approval, respectively.

  • Proposition 10, approved by voters in November 1998, imposed an additional surtax on cigarettes (50 cent) and other tobacco products to generate revenues for early childhood development programs.

  • Proposition 39, approved by voters in November 2000, allows for the enactment of local general obligation bonds for school facilities with 55 percent voter approval.

  • Proposition 42, approved by voters in March 2002, permanently dedicates revenues from the sales tax on gasoline, previously deposited into the General Fund, to transportation purposes.

  • Proposition 49, approved by voters in November 2002, requires State funding for after-school programs pursuant to certain conditions being met.

    Most of these measures enacted over the last 25 years have limited the amount of funds available to the State or local governments. Other voter-approved changes have mandated increased State and local spending for some programs. Other voter-approved changes have mandated increased State and local spending for some programs. Still other restrictions have been placed on the manner in which local governments can raise revenue, commonly by increasing the percentage of voters who must approve these revenue increases -- complicating local governments' ability to respond to local conditions and citizen demands for services. Yet other voter-approved measures have simply transferred moneys from one kind of spending to another.

    These numerous changes not only limited State and local fiscal discretion, but were adopted in a piecemeal fashion rather than as overall solutions to spending concerns. The practical result is a State and local fiscal system that is irrational. California's current fiscal structure, the underpinning of our public investments in physical infrastructure and our human resources, has not been updated for a very long time. Since 1978, California's population has grown from around 23 million to over 35 million persons, and the demographics of our state have changed significantly.

    Finally, the volatility of California's revenues has severely constrained the ability of the State to support necessary public investments to sustain economic growth in California. California's current fiscal crisis is primarily attributable to the precipitous drop in the stock market, which led to an equally sharp drop in capital gains and stock option income. Two years ago, these revenue sources comprised 25 percent of total General Fund revenues.

    The Governor's Budget forecasts capital gains and stock options at 11 percent of total General Fund revenues in 2001-02 and 8 percent in 2002-03 amd 2003-04/ Thus, the largest proportion of our current budget problem results from the fluctuating income from capital gains and stock options.

    The relationship of these income sources to stock market performance and to the timing of the economic recovery in California and the nation makes State personal income tax revenues inherently volatile.

"Azaleas" 1999, 2005 Dorothy A. Birsic

A Call to Action

    California can no longer support critical public services with an obsolete fiscal blueprint. It is time to make changes in the way we do business and government in this state. Numerous reports by public and private organizations clearly show that the State's fiscal system is incapable of maintaining our public spending commitments.

    This budget must not only be a balances spending plan for the 2003-2004 fiscal year -- it simultaneously must resolve our fiscal structural problems by adopting reforms to our outdated revenue structure and reforms to our fiscal and budget tools to protect the State's ability to continue support for vital services in the event of future economic downturns.

    California must have a new blueprint for the future.

    Numerous commissions and studies, including the California Constitution Revision Commission and the California Citizens Budget Commission, have focused on State and local reforms. Their recommendations have largely been ignored. Special interest objections to any change have often led to government deadlock, even though the need for reform is clear. Enough studies have been done. Structural reform is fundamental to resolving the State's budget crisis. Now is the time for policymakers to make the tough choices that will enable California to invest in our human resources and physical infrastructure, critical public commitments for sustained economic growth.

    Reforms to California's current fiscal structure must be an integral part of resolving the 2003-2004 Budget. In order to begin this dialogue, the Administration places the following reform proposals on the table for consideration during 2003. The Governor will convene the bi-partisan legislative leadership in February to discuss these proposals and solicit other reform proposals for consideration. In addition, the Administration will consult with representatives of major stakeholder interests.

    If enactment of the 2003-04 Budget fails to include reforms to our fiscal structure, it will be a failure. Fundamental structural reform is integral to this Budget.

Structural Reform Proposals for Consideration

  • Allow mid-year budget adjustments and suspension of statues - Restore the Executive Branch authority, which existed prior to 1983, to make mid-year budget adjustments when revenues fall significantly below anticipated levels. This would also allow the Governor to make statutory changes affecting programs, including entitlement programs.

  • Create a State budget reserve to mitigate the volatility of the State's revenues, and re-evaluate current spending limit requirements - Require that once the Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties has been established at the appropriate level, any proceeds from extraordinary revenue growth, particularly from volatile revenue sources, be placed in a reserve fund for one-time purposes.

  • Require sunset review of all "automatic" spending laws - Require periodic review of all constitutional or statutory spending laws. This would provide an opportunity for the Legislature and the public to discuss the wisdon of continuing guaranteed funding increases.

  • Require sunset review of all tax breaks - Require periodic review of all tax breaks. As with automatic spending laws, the existence of hundreds of tax breaks for businesses and individuals reduces moneys available for desired spending. These tax breaks often continue long after the rationale for their adoption has disappeared. Under this proposal, every tax expenditure currently authorized would sunset and be extended for a period of five years only after the effectiveness of the tax expenditure has been determined.

  • Request that the Legislature revise its appropriations process to require the identification of future year costs of legislation, and to identify the funds available to pay those costs - Request that the Legislature evaluate the cost of proposed legislation beyond the initial year of implementation to more fully understand the future funding implications. Currently, the fiscal impact identified for most legislation is often limited to those costs in the year of adoption and perhaps a few years later. The projected costs in future years are often not available to legislators who must vote on these bills. At the same time, it is essential that legislation identify the source of funding for future year costs.

  • Rebalance the portfolio of State revenue to achieve a more stable mix of major revenue sources - Dependence on more volatile revenue sources has hampered the State's ability to consistently meet funding demands in critical programs. The State needs to examine ways to more fairly allocate the tax burden and reduce revenue volatility.

  • Rebalance the portfolio of local government revenue to achieve a better mix of major revenue sources, and encourage "rational growth" decisions - Acknowledge the fact that the current revenue structure virtually forces local governments to make unwise land use decisions. Known as the fiscalization of land use, this leads to intense competition between neighboring cities over the location of businesses. Local competition for retail stores or auto malls to generate sales tax revenue rarely balances community housing needs or the benefits of non-retail business and industry. The competition also exacerbates transportation and environmental problems. Property tax revisions, such as changing the manner in which commercial properties are re-assessed, might provide improvised fiscal incentives for local governments to address local needs.

  • Restore local community control of programs and revenue raising - Provide reasonable revenue-raising tools to local governments. In addition, realignment of State and local programs and revenue is essential. This Budget includes an $8.3 billion State-Local Program Realignment proposal, assigning program responsibilities to the appropriate level of government and allowing local governments to exercise greater discretion in program administration and service delivery (see Preserving Critical Programs section). Equally essential is a complete review of statutory mandates on local governments, those mandates determined to be unnecessary should be repealed.

*            *            *

    Hopefully the information has been at least marginally useful to those of you who have made it this far. Before closing, here's one last piece of wisdom from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office. It is from a publication entitled "The 2003-2004 Budget: Perspectives and Issues; [A] Report From the Legislative Analysts Office to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee." In the report, it is stated that, "The actions proposed by the Governor reflect his priorities for dealing with the shortfall. In evaluating and acting on these proposals, the Legislature will be confronted with applying its own priorities to make fundamental decisions about the scope of government services; how those services are distributed among the citizenry; and what the nature, amount and mix of taxes in California should be. Given the unprecedented scope of the problem, any budget that seriously addresses the budget imbalance will necessarily involve difficult choices that will likely affect all Californians to one degree or another."

    The recall election has given all voters a unique opportunity to register either their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the current governor and the direction in which his Administration is taking this state. Once again, listen to the candidates and those speaking for or against the recall. Think about all of the issues, and most importantly, GET OUT AND VOTE ON OCTOBER THE 7TH!!!

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    *This poem appeared on the site in early October 2003 just before the California recall election. It is adapted - with thanks (and apologies!) to Edgar Allen Poe - from Poe's poem "The Raven."*

"THE CALIFORNIA RECALL RAVEN"

Once upon a midnight dreary, while Davis pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of budgetary lore --

While he nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping -- rapping at his chamber door

"'Tis some visitor," he muttered, "tapping at my chamber door --

Only this and nothing more."


Ah, distinctly, he remembers, it was in the last November

As each separate ballot tendered wrought its ghost on the Capitol floor

Eagerly he wished the morrow; for surely he had sought to borrow

From the people hope for tomorrow -- tomorrow and for four years more

For the glorious state with the golden shore

California here for evermore


And the silken new uncertain rustling of each stately curtain

Thrilled him - filled him with fantastic feelings never felt before,

So that now, to still the beating of his heart, he stood repeating

"Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door --

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; --

This it is and nothing more."


Presently his soul grew stronger, hesitating then no longer

"Sir," he said, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping

And so faintly you came tapping -- tapping at my chamber door

That I scarce was sure I heard you" -- here he opened wide the door --

The electorate there and nothing more.


Deep into California peering, long he stood there, wondering, fearing

Doubting, dreaming dreams many a governor dreamt before;

But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token

And the only word now spoken was a whispered faint "Encore"

Slowly dying, nothing more.


Then into his chamber turning, all his soul within him burning,

Soon again he heard a tapping, something lounder than before.

"Surely," said he, "surely that is something at my window lattice;

Let me see, then, what the threat is, and this mystery explore; --

'Tis the wind and nothing more."


Open here he flung the shutter, when with many a flirt and flutter

In there stepped a Recall Raven of the stately days of yore

Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he

But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above his chamber door --

Perched upon a bust of a governor just above his chamber door --

Perched, and sat, and nothing more.


Then this ebony bird beguiling his curious fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore

"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," he said, "art sure no craven

Ghastly grim the Recall Raven wandering from the nightly shore --

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian Shore!"

Quoth the Recall Raven "No Encore."


Much he marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning -- little relevancy bore;

For we cannot help agreeing that no living governor being

Ever yet was haunted by seeing Recall bird above his chamber door --

Bird or beast upon sculptured bust above his chamber door,

With such a name as "No Encore."


But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only

Those words, as if his soul in those words he did outpour.

Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered --

'Till Davis scarcely more than muttered "Other Ravens have flown before --

On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."

Then the bird said, "No encore."


Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

"Doubtless," said he, "what it utters is its only stock and store

Caught from some unhappy masters, who saw government disasters

Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore --

Till the dirges of their hope the melancholy burden bore

of "Never, ever -- No encore.""


But the Raven still beguiling made him ponder the statewide filing

Straight he wheeled a cushioned seat in front of the bird and bust and door;

Then upon the velvet sinking, he betook himself to linking

Worry unto worry, thinking what this ominous bird of yore --

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore

Meant in croaking "No Encore."


Then he sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into his bosom's core;

This and more he sat divining, with his worried head reclining

On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er

But whose silver velvet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er

Mulled the case of "No Encore."


Then, he thought, the air grew denser

Perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by petitioners whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

"Wretch," he cried, "what spirit hath lent thee -- by these voters to have sent thee

Respite - respite and nepenthe from the state's unhappy roar

Quaff, oh quaff this dire nepenthe, and quelch the state's unhappy roar

Quoth the Raven, "No Encore."


"Be those words our sign of parting, bird or fiend," he said upstarting

"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!

Leave no black plume as a token of those words that have been spoken!

Leave my government unbroken! Quit the bust above the door.

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"

Quoth the raven, "No Encore."


And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the governor's bust just above the chamber door;

And his eyes have all the seeming, of the candidates who are dreaming

And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his image on the door.

And the day nears from that image that hangs suspended on the door

Will or won't there be "Encore?"

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