By PETE GOLIS
PRESS DEMOCRAT COLUMNIST
Whether Democrat, Republican or one of the growing number of Decline to State voters, most Californians long ago joined the party of the disillusioned, disgusted and disenfranchised.
No one was surprised when a pre-election survey found most voters believe a third major party is needed because the others are doing such a lousy job — or that the same survey found only 10 percent of voters approved of the performance of the state Legislature.
You know how insiders conspired to take you out of the game. Partisan gerrymanders and closed primaries tilted the playing field in favor of right-wing ideologues in Republican districts and public employees unions in Democratic districts.
What followed, inevitably, were the years of political stalemate that brought California to its current humiliation.
Now come Republican legislators with a more direct assault on your right to vote.
In resisting a budget compromise last week, these Republicans said they were opposing a five-year extension of existing taxes. But they weren’t being asked to support a tax extension. They were being asked to put the measure on the ballot.
By their actions, what they were saying is they don’t trust you to decide.
They should be ashamed of their blind dogma — and their timidity in the face of right-wing critics who don’t live in California and care only about advancing their ideological agenda.
This is not to say that Democrats in the state Legislature deserve your trust. They spent too many years destroying that trust to be granted a pass now.
But California is in a world of trouble.
For the comfortable, it may be pleasant to believe someone else will suffer.
And the victims will include the poor, the aged, the sick and schoolchildren.
But the prosperity and well-being of all Californians is now at risk, and it’s delusional to pretend otherwise. When a cop doesn’t arrive when they need one, when the street in front of their house is cratered with potholes, when a failing transportation system causes employers to look elsewhere, when they wait in line at city hall (or city hall is closed), maybe then people will figure it out.
In government meeting rooms all over California, the pain is being passed around — and the worst is yet to come if there is no extension of existing taxes.
Here’s one example among many: The Santa Rosa Board of Education expects to cut spending by $12 million over the next two years, but without a tax extension, the cuts could reach $22 million. Most school districts find themselves dismantling critical programs because they have run out of other options.
Most other local agencies face the same dire circumstances. Supervisor Efren Carrillo used words such as “calamitous” and “devastating” in describing what could happen to county government.
If they want, voters can hide behind the complaint that government abrogated its responsibility when it failed to live within its means.
True enough. But there comes the time when the well-being of our towns and our state requires us to put aside our disgust and deal with what is real. Now is that time.
There is a reason, after all, that business groups have tried to encourage a budget compromise. They know it will be devastating for the economy if there isn’t revenue to head off the most draconian spending cuts.
If folks are looking for a reason to feel more optimistic, there is this: Beginning next year, redistricting reform and open primaries will make Sacramento a more welcome place for mainstream, common sense politics.
Since he took office in January, Gov. Jerry Brown has been honest about what will be necessary to get California back on track, and the Legislature has shown a newfound maturity, agreeing to more than $11 billion in spending cuts.
Brown, who worked hard at finding common ground with legislative Republicans, now describes them as obstructionists — a label more precise than pejorative.
It’s instructive that two Republican lawmakers were targeted last week in radio ads purchased by anti-tax groups. These pre-emptive strikes against the risk of a budget compromise tell the story: Anti-tax groups don’t want the people of California to be able make this decision.
Maybe voters will turn down an extension of taxes. Polls show voters are closely divided.
But the decision should be ours — simply because the stakes are so high. The outcome is too important to be left to a handful of Republicans who live in fear of being labeled not conservative enough. And the decision is too important to be left once again to the chronic dysfunction of state government.
All we ask is a chance to vote on our own future.