- Paperback: 370 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Revised edition edition (August 16, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520243870
- ISBN-13: 978-0520243873
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,071,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future Revised edition Edition
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In Paradise Lost veteran Sacramento journalist Peter Schrag reports on the dark side of populism in America's Golden State. California in the 1950s seemed a land of limitless potential, boosted by world-class public services and Progressive politics; today, however, its future hardly seems unbounded, its services are in shambles, and its politics are increasingly driven by rancor. Schrag places much of the blame on the state's penchant for ballot initiatives, in which citizens can bypass the legislative process and place questions directly to voters. Through a series of antitax and term-limits campaigns, he argues, these initiatives have done serious damage to the notion of representative democracy in the state. Schrag is a liberal, so not everybody will agree with his conclusions, but he is a thoughtful writer who reminds us that the United States often follows California's lead. Says Schrag, "Things had better work here, where the new American society is first coming into full view, because if it fails here, it may never work anywhere else either." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
California once ranked among the top 10 states in annual per-pupil spending, but over the past 30 years its ranking plummeted to 41st. In this compelling overview of the state's postwar history, Schrag (Mind Control) chronicles the Golden State's descent from "both model and magnet for the nation?in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality public services" to a place of ethnic unrest, unraveling communities and dwindling social services. Schrag heaps particular criticism on California's unruly initiative-driven political system, whose "Byzantine intricacy" perpetuates public disaffection and alienation. The turning point, Schrag contends, was Proposition 13, a people's initiative passed in 1978 in response to wildly escalating property taxes, which "set the stage for the entire Reagan era, and became both fact and symbol of a radical shift in governmental priorities, public attitudes, and social relationships that is as nearly fundamental in American politics as the changes brought by the New Deal." Cogently argued and meticulously researched, Schrag's "urgent cautionary tale" is, if not dispassionate, astonishingly clear in its explanation of how California arrived at its present situation, how it will affect (and indeed has affected) the rest of the country and how it may yet climb back up to more community-driven, dynamic and munificent political terrain.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Prop 13 was enacted in 1979 ostensibly to cap property taxes in California. The campaign for its passage was bankrolled by some eccentric conservative millionaires, and California has been trying to cope ever since its passage. Schrag's book exposes how the seemingly good idea was packaged and sold to a gullible public, how education and human service have suffered ever since, and how the state's tax system has become a Frankenstein Monster favoring long-term wealthy residents and strip malls over more mobile Californians and manufacturing firms.
The strength of this book is its in-depth analysis of the history and impact of Prop 13. The focus on this one initiative is so great that the book is almost about it and not the mechanism by which it became law (the ballot initiative). But this approach is justified to illustrate Schrag's main point, that ballot initiatives are deceptive and make bad laws.
An excellent compliment to this book is David Broder's "Democracy Derailed," which focuses more on the degree to which the ballot initiative industry has become dominated by monied interests. Together, these books paint a bleak picture of states, especially California, where so-called "direct democracy" is a regular part of governance.
This particular form of governance is actually popular because it conveys the illusion of voter-control. Most Californians would never dream of eliminating the initiative option, despite the imposing cost of putting a measure on the ballot, the prohibitive length of ballots crammed with several (sometimes scores) of complicated, sometimes competing initiatives, or the confusing tactics by which individual measures are advocated or opposed. "Paradise Lost" will probably get more angry responses than converts from the Golden State, but it should serve as a cautionary tale for the rest of us.
The only flaw to this book is that the transition between the general discussion and the case of Prop 13 is clunky. More examples should have been explored in the general discussion, and the mechanisms of the procedure should have been better explained. The implication that the means are not justified by the ends would leave James Madison wanting for a more principled defense of the representative government alternative.
But on the whole, "Paradise Lost" is a strong contribution to a dialogue with few too participants.
Because of cuts in property taxes and a reluctance by older, wealthier, white home owning Californians to pay for services they don't personally use; public services in California are underfunded. These public services are used by ethnic minorities whose population has mushroomed in the past thirty years. These minorities are not represented at the voting polls. The polls are dominated by the older, wealthier, white voters who strive to reduce their taxes. The split between the demographic profile of the voters and the users of services is a challenge to California's state finances.
The main themes:
1) Tax revolt;
2) Demographic forces behind tax revolt; and
3) Anti government Prop movement.
The California public sector went from being the Nation's envy in the sixties to becoming among the sorriest in the nineties. In the sixties, California ranked among the top state in per capita spending on schools, universities, and infrastructure. Now, California ranks near the bottom on all counts. This shift was due to the tax revolt started in 1978 by Prop 13.
The passage of key propositions caused budget constraints. Prop 13 in 1978 reduced property taxes by 60%. It shrank cities revenues by 27%, counties by 40%, school districts by 46%. Prop 13 also limited the ability of local governments to raise funds. Any parcel tax to service new bond issuance to fund local services has to be approved by 2/3 of voters. Ever since California schools have been underfunded. The Gann's spending limit, Prop 4, passed in 1979 limited the growth in state and local spending to the % increase in population + inflation. But, school enrollment and inmate counts were rising faster than the general population. Prop 13 & 4 resulted in cuts in K-12 spending. Prop 98 passed in 1988, was to shore up school spending. It guarantees that K-14 spending be equal to 40% of the General Fund. But, a decade later school funding as a % of General Fund was lower than it was before Prop 98. Prop 98 became a cap for school funding.
These propositions caused a shift away from direct taxation towards fees. New fees have been raised on real estate development, business licenses, utility services. Fees on real estate development represent up to $60,000 per home! With the passage of Prop 218 in 1996, this access to local revenues was curtailed. Prop 218 dictates that no local tax, or fee will be imposed without a vote of the affected citizen.
Another impact of Prop 13 is the "fiscalization of land." Land zoning became driven towards shopping centers which generate sales tax. This fiscalization of land resulted in a slow growth of the housing stock.
Demographic factors behind Tax Revolt.
Demographic shifts have caused a disconnect between voters and the users of public services. Between the 70s and the 90s, whites decreased from 78% to 52% of the population. Meanwhile, non-Whites grew from 22% to 48% of the population due to migration from Mexico, Central America, and the Far East. The non-Whites are the users of public services. In the K-12, you have a growing multi-ethnic population. In the community colleges, Latinos dominate. In the UC system, Asians dominate. In prisons, Blacks dominate. Medicaid recipients are mainly Latinos. These non-Whites users of public services are young, low income, renters.
However, 78% of the voters are White. They are older, high income, homeowners. Also, parents with children in school decreased from 42% of the electorate in 1977 to only 21% in 1997. The different profile of voters and public service users is the demographic force fueling the tax revolt.
Anti government movement.
The Proposition movement has rendered the California government so much harder to run. Prop 140 in 1990 set term limits at the State level. Members of the Assembly are limited to three two year terms (six years total). State senators are limited to two four year terms (eight years total). Thus, legislators have little experience running a complex State government. Thus, power has shifted from legislators to bureaucrats and lobbyists not affected by term limits. Prop 223 passed in 1998 set term limits at the Federal level. Thus, California congressmen are limited to three to year terms (six years total), and California senators are limited to two six year terms (12 years total). This puts California at a disadvantage relative to other State regarding allocation of Federal funds.
California has increasingly more propositions on its ballots. And, more of them are deemed unconstitutional, and become stuck in courts. There is no review process insuring that props are legally sound before they go on ballots.
In the early nineties, the Constitution Revision Commission was an effort to render the state constitution functional again. It made excellent recommendations: extending term limits, eliminating the 2/3 majority to pass local bonds, and increase property tax on businesses. The legislature dismissed all recommendations.
My one rebuttal.
The author represents that California's overall tax burden is less than average. But, I compared the tax structure of the eight States with population greater than 10 millions. As of 2001, within this group, California had the highest individual income tax rate. It had the third highest corporate income tax rate and sales tax rate. It is only in property tax that it ranked below average at 6th among the eight. If we looked not at tax rates, but instead tax dollars, you'd have to bet that California's property tax would be closer to the top. This is because California homes are more expensive. A big surprise, California tax rates are much higher than in New York state in all categories. Also, all of the above does not include any comparisons of "fees" were California has to lead the nation.