Immediately after last week's off-year state elections, a host of liberal screech monkeys loosed a litany of overblown claims regarding what selected outcomes would mean for federal elections in 2006. Why, just look at those Democrat gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey. Look at the rout of Governor Schwarzenegger's initiatives in California. Couple those with the President's plummeting approval ratings and...Happy Days Are Here Again.
Even in the breathless world of cable TV news, the story didn't last days, as wizened old graybeards of realpolitik imparted actual knowledge and analysis, general and specific. Shazam, and the twisted spin got sent to the media rubbish pile growing large enough to soon need dumping regulations.
Ah, but. There is yet another story from those real citizen votes, scant though they were, and maybe it is more important, at least say the liberals who are pushing it. It goes: Americans really do love taxes, and Americans will embrace more government spending, because two devastating hurricanes showed them the importance of infrastructure and because Americans are just good people and...
The evidence marshaled for this epiphany rivaled that for cold fusion, alien abduction and crocs cruising New Orleans. It came primarily from three states.
In California, voter rejection of Prop 76, which would have imposed budget caps and given the governor expansive budget slashing power, was portrayed as a citizen cry for more government services, not less spending. Maybe, perhaps, perchance, but that explanation ignores the dynamics of a not-much-liked special election that featured eight separate initiatives, every one of them defeated. It ignores the numbers of Californians loading up their wagons and leaving for states where their dollars will go further, both for themselves and for government services. It ignores a skewed vote in which labor unions did, in fact, wield a formidable force reminiscent of the past, but costing those unions so dearly that it is unlikely to be duplicated in the future. It ignores the possibility that Californians, after decades of initiative overload, have reached the point that they are sick and tired of initiatives of all stripes and just want elected officials to officiate responsibly. In short, it ignores too much to be a harbinger for much, even in a so-called bellwether state.
In Colorado, voters agreed, for a period of five years, to allow the state to suspend budget surplus refunds and spend the money on services. That vote cannot be ignored, because Colorado's "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" (TABOR) has been a model for forcing governments to live within their means, as individuals must. But Coloradans also delivered a distinctively mixed message in the election, rejecting a companion proposal that would have allowed the state to issue $2.1 billion in bonds for transportation. "We'll increase your allowance for a while, but you're not going to borrow a bundle on our backs," voters seemed to be saying.
In Washington State, an initiative to repeal a 9.5 cents-per-gallon gasoline tax was defeated after a massive campaign evoked images of Hurricane Katrina infrastructure damage. "[New Orleans'] levees are our bridges," was Governor Christine Gregoire's spiel. But in Washington, voters also approved a measure to impose audits of government programs, deploying the always-healthy "trust but verify" principle.
While the votes in those three states indicate no more of a trend than a week's astrology predictions, they should be cautionary to all who believe in restraining government spending and the taxes that must pay for it. Contrary to liberal mantras, most conservatives do not oppose legitimate, necessary and efficient government expenditures that are within taxpayer means. We do oppose excess, waste, fraud and abuse and government programs that spring forth and grow willy nilly without demonstrable benefit.
Measured against the tax-and-spend trend that isn't, the voters of one other state, as blue as they come in the vernacular of our time, turned in a surprising vote. In New York, voters overwhelmingly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have vastly expanded legislative power over the budget and invited even more mischief than usual, which is a lot. Governor Pataki called the proposal "the most dangerous initiative I've seen in my entire time in government." In New York, that's saying something, as is the fact that Pataki was joined in opposition by former Governor Mario Cuomo.
In a report on the state votes, even The New York Times concluded, "In other words, when it comes to taxes, Americans are still divided."
For conservatives, the job ahead is to make that division at least 50% plus one —AGAINST, when against is the rational, prudent course.
November 17, 2005
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