This Date in UCSF History: After the Recall, Things Will Get No Better

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Published in Synapse on October 2, 2003.

The culmination of weeks of political farce comes on October 7, when California voters will vote on whether to recall Governor Gray Davis and replace him.

Let’s take a look at what might happen after the recall.

Scenario 1: Davis is recalled, Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected.

I know, according to the GOP, that Gray Davis is the worst human being ever to walk the Earth and that all California’s problems will magically vanish with his removal from office, but...

How will Arnold be able to cooperate with the state Legislature, both houses of which have firm Democratic majorities? Especially when you consider the fact that said Democrats will be seething at the farcical recall procedure which forced a duly elected governor out of office for the most specious of reasons.

Since the Republicans insist they will not raise taxes to deal with California’s deficit, that means a lot of state programs are going to have to be gutted. Why would anyone think a Democratic Legislature would agree to this?

Furthermore, now that the Pandora’s Box of recalls has been opened, and all can see how easy and relatively inexpensive (just a couple million dollars of Darrell Issa’s money) it is to force a recall election, can anyone imagine the Democrats will not soon launch their own recall move against Arnold? Indeed, is there any reason to believe that the recall, if it succeeds this time, will not become a permanent feature of California political life, thereby ensnarling our already gridlocked system of government even further?

Scenario 2: Davis survives the recall, or is recalled but replaced by Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante.

We’re right back to Square One, with a Democratic governor and a Democratic-controlled Legislature trying to close the deficit by raising taxes on California’s wealthy in the teeth of unyielding Republican opposition. We all watched the budget struggle of last year, which ended with a deal that required much borrowing and many accounting tricks to “balance” the budget and “eliminate” the $38 billion deficit. This smoke-and-mirrors budget deal is already falling apart under legal challenge.

The incoming governor, whoever he may be, will face an immediate shortfall of $8 billion and will have to contend with fixing the already leaking budget from last year.

Where is that money going to come from? On this point, Davis and Bustamante are clear: they would raise taxes on the top four percent of Californians.

Let’s remember that, by the way: all this fuss is over a tax increase that won’t affect 96 percent of us.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to believe that Republicans will be less intransigent than they were last year about raising taxes. And with the two-thirds requirement to hike taxes mandated by good ol’ Prop 13, it is impossible for the Democrats to raise taxes without Republican assistance.

So where does that leave us? Right back at the ballot box, baby. Yes, passing a simple tax increase to deal with a burgeoning deficit is apparently beyond-our elected representatives, even though Republican governors Pete Wilson and Ronald Reagan both managed to accomplish this feat when they were in office.

So it is likely any such “revenue enhancement” (which the Democrats will doubtless call it) or “tax increase on our already incredibly overburdened citizenry” (as the Republicans will call it) will ultimately have to be decided in yet another expensive and unnecessary referendum.

It is worth pointing out that the Californians are more lightly taxed than they were ten years ago, or 20 years ago.

Indeed the American people remain (by far) the most lightly taxed people among the advanced nations of the Earth. As was pointed out most recently by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the tax burden of middle-class America has not gone up appreciably in a generation. The tax rates on the wealthy have dropped to “historically low levels — which leads to two questions:

1) What — beyond naked greed — is behind the tax revolt?

2) Is it really worth wrecking the state of California’s highways, schools, hospitals, libraries and yes, universities, because a few rich people (remember that 4 percent) refuse to pay higher taxes?

Simply put, this whole recall election is a farce that should not be taking place. Governors are supposed to be recalled for gross malfeasance in office, not because they propose a tax increase when faced with a budget deficit.

A great state should not be paralyzed through the greed of a few of its citizens and the irresponsibility of politicians. But logic has little to do with this situation. Vote however you want, but don’t expect any changes from the bickering in Sacramento.