Saturday, June 26, 2010

Re: Attention California

Californians have an incredible opportunity to support the arts through the Million Plates Campaign for the Arts coordinated by The California Arts Council.

If one million California drivers purchased an arts license plate, we would raise $40 million. That's $40 million dollars that would go directly to more than 300 groups across our schools and communities.

The Million Plates campaign launches Monday in Los Angeles. But plates are available right now by simply going online to

Playgoer asks:

Can this really work, Kally-fawn-ians?

As a Californian ex-pat, all I can say is: No, it can't really work.

That's because the state has such an incredibly gigantic budget deficit that if you were to increase a guaranteed revenue source (from, the State would simply allocate less of its general fund. Why? Because the entire state's finances is completely broken.

If you want to know what a budget deficit really sounds like in our current political climate, listen to This American Life's coverage of New York State's broken politics. It shows how Lieutenant Governor Ravitch came in with a plan that would balance New York's budget over the long term and bring back fiscal discipline, and nobody gave a shit.

And the sad thing is that compared to California, New York really has its shit together.

When I was in Middle School, Governor Gray Davis (D-CA) looked at the gigantic budget surplus -- I mean, a huge budget surplus, we were the boom of the Tech Boom -- and realized he could become really fucking popular. So he started promising everything. He promised deregulation of the electricity industry, he promised class sizes of 20 students, he promised lower taxes.

Then the boom went away, and the economy contracted in 2003. We got ripped off by the electricity industry (remember Enron?), and soon the state's finances were in one of the biggest deficits in the state's histories -- right after the biggest surplus. We had saved nothing, we had cut revenues, and then the pain started.

Pretty soon, school was being made shorter and shorter, class sizes were ballooning past 40 again, and the state's finances remained in a mess. Cue the Terminator music, and we got Governor Cullyfawnia. Democrats refused to run an opposition candidate in the Recall election, refused to admit that anything had gone wrong, and so we got the Terminator. But we still had a Democratic legislator and Democrat voters, so what we got from that point forward was stasis.

So I look at this license plate thing and all I can think is, what a desperate gimmick. Maybe, for one year, it might work a little bit. But Schwarzenegger is still forcing across-the-board budget cuts. If the State Pension Fund realizes that $40 million are going to the arts, are they going to accept reductions in their payments? No! They'll say, "cut us in on that state arts money." So will the Teacher's Union.

California's arts funding can't be saved unless:
  1. The arts manages to take a higher priority than the State's Pension Fund, the Federal Courts who are ordering us to spend more on prisons and reduce their populations, the enormously powerful Teacher's Union, or the voter's penchant for cutting their own property tax (they just voted to do that again).
  2. California's budget stabilizes, and therefore these things are no longer in competition.
Honestly, after listening to This American Life, I bet they're only looking for $40 million in plates so that they can borrow against it as guaranteed revenue.

And one more thing: say 1 million people buy arts plates, and it makes $40 million dollars. How much would it make in year Two? How much time would this money last us?

So I'm not buying one, nor will I tell my family to. Not until the State puts its house in order.