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The Golden Rule, “Whoever has the gold makes the rule,” has turned into the Platinum Rule: “He who has the government’s American Excess Platinum Card makes the rules.” Because state politicians lack the power to spend significantly in excess of annual revenues, thanks to state constitutional balanced budget provisions, they turn to Uncle Sugar. The first taste may be free, but then come the demands. This bipartisan political dynamic has pernicious effects on the constitutional balance between states and the federal government. nationalizing much of our policy, right down to local government and so right down to where you live.
But wait, we hear all the time about states in debt, what is this state constitutional limit talk?
True, states and their creatures, local governments, are carrying enormous debt. The debt levels vary significantly by state. Each state produces a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). Search on “[state name] Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,” and you will get the state’s latest report. World Population Review has a very clear presentation of debt by state in 2021. The common theme is that states have large unfunded obligations on public pensions and social spending. These are the result of serial election and government worker union compensation package negotiation cycles. Where wages and other benefits that must be paid by current budgets are limited, the contractual promises of fatter retirement packets were cost-free in the political short run.
So, it is true that states vary but all carry debt, and that they are internally limited on spending more than they collect in each budgetary cycle. Even California, with its dominant Democratic Party, has strong, state balanced budget provisions.* The cross-pressure of electoral incentives to spend on popular or powerful state and local constituencies, with popular state constitutional limits on annual deficit spending, sets up every level of state government, together with all of us, for strong pressure from national bureaucracies, Congress, the president, and the federal courts.
First taste is free.
Uncle Sugar is the world’s biggest drug dealer. Beyond literal drugs, the U.S. federal government has become accustomed to supplying popular fixes to every customer. Never mind red, blue, and black pills, Uncle Sugar supplies conservative, liberal, rural and urban, rich and poor, with the goodies they crave. Law and order spending? Check. Save the “family” farmers? Check. Mothers and children? That’s American as Mom and Apple Pie.
So it is that everything from the local school to your local zoning commission is hooked on “free federal money.” Anyone who refuses these dollars, if they can, is in danger of being voted out in an election that is structurally rigged, set well away from the big biannual federal election days, to produce low turn out easily dominated by constituents who expect a concentrated benefit at someone else’s expense at some fuzzy future time.
This is not about unfunded mandates. Far from it. This is about federal incentives turning into mandates sweetened and strengthened by federal funny money, drawn from the Bank of China or the Bank of Neverland. The fault lies in both major political parties and in our fallen human nature.
It is less than fully honest to point to the dominant progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which is, after all, striving to keep very public promises. If there is fault at the federal level, it falls heavily on the Senate RepubliCAN’T Conference and the House Republicans. They mouth platitudes about smaller government and their latest lie: “freedom and opportunity for everyone.” If you believe that, you were not watching their duplicity in riding “repeal Obamacare” to House and then Senate majorities, only to collude with their good friends, the congressional Democrats, and the permanent bureaucracy in the fraudulent “Russia, Russia, Russia” operation, dishonestly declaring they had real concerns that voters were tricked or votes altered or President Trump was compromised by Putin. McConnell and Lyin’ Ryan were at the heart of this crooked scheme to void the obligation to fulfill their false promises uttered during the Obama presidency.
What is to be done?
Every state and local government must act within the broadest reading of their constitutional powers to ban CRT in education and its related student activity requirements (including student lobbying and demonstrations as part of school credit). They need to do the same with. Every Republican state attorney general should immediately grab Montana Attorney General Knudsen’s Binding Opinion On Critical Race Theory and adapt it for their own state. Every state legislature, backed by every Republican governor, must clearly legislate against any form of CRT, in education, government, business, or housing. Oklahoma and Idaho were the early achievers on banning CRT in public education.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s veto of just such legislation is a national disgrace and a sign that he is a corporatist Nixon-Bush Republican, not a Reagan-Trump Republican. His laughable assertion that he did so to force a budget bill is false on its face, as the budget must be passed within weeks by law. His real purpose was to gut real Arizona resistance to the left, for whatever self-serving reason.
Before speaking or writing, every official and their staff need to commit the phrases from Christopher Rufo’s “Critical Race Theory Briefing Book.” No stupid utterances that subvert the cause of rolling back the left.
Defining critical race theory
“Critical race theory divides Americans into oppressor and oppressed based on their skin color.”
“Critical race theory says the solution to past discrimination is present discrimination. I reject this. Racism is always wrong.”
“I oppose racism, whether it comes from the Klan or from critical race theory.”
Critical race theory in schools
“Race reeducation programs”
“Neo-racist theories have no place in public education.”
“Critical race theory teaches children that they are defined by their race, not as individuals.”
“Critical race theory teaches children to hate each other and hate their country.”
“Neo-racist theories have no place in our public institutions.”
“Public institutions must reflect the values of the public—not fringe racial theories that seek to divide Americans into oppressor and oppressed.”
“This bill does not prevent schools from teaching about racism, slavery, and segregation. It prohibits schools from indoctrinating students into fringe racial theories that claim one race is superior to another or that individuals should be treated differently on the basis of race.”
Starting Election Night 2016, McConnell, Lyin’ Ryan and their congressional cronies were the dog that caught the bumper. If McConnell and McCarthy are leading their caucus into the 2022 election, any incumbent that has not denounced them publicly is colluding and conspiring to ride the “stop the left” money train just like they did the “repeal Obamacare” train. Any candidate that is not pledged to a change of Republican congressional leadership is looking to get in on the gravy train. Only the real act of political courage of pledging now to completely change leadership counts as a trustworthy indicator of real fight for real reform.
* CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION – ARTICLE IV LEGISLATIVE [SEC. 1 – SEC. 28]
( Heading of Article 4 amended Nov. 8, 1966, by Prop. 1-a. Res.Ch. 139, 1966 1st Ex. Sess. )
Sec. 12. (a) Within the first 10 days of each calendar year, the Governor shall submit to the Legislature, with an explanatory message, a budget for the ensuing fiscal year containing itemized statements for recommended state expenditures and estimated state revenues. If recommended expenditures exceed estimated revenues, the Governor shall recommend the sources from which the additional revenues should be provided.
(b) The Governor and the Governor-elect may require a state agency, officer or employee to furnish whatever information is deemed necessary to prepare the budget.
(c) (1) The budget shall be accompanied by a budget bill itemizing recommended expenditures.
(2) The budget bill shall be introduced immediately in each house by the persons chairing the committees that consider the budget.
(3) The Legislature shall pass the budget bill by midnight on June 15 of each year.
(4) Until the budget bill has been enacted, the Legislature shall not send to the Governor for consideration any bill appropriating funds for expenditure during the fiscal year for which the budget bill is to be enacted, except emergency bills recommended by the Governor or appropriations for the salaries and expenses of the Legislature.
(d) No bill except the budget bill may contain more than one item of appropriation, and that for one certain, expressed purpose. Appropriations from the General Fund of the State, except appropriations for the public schools and appropriations in the budget bill and in other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill, are void unless passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring.
(e) (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law or of this Constitution, the budget bill and other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill may be passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the journal, a majority of the membership concurring, to take effect immediately upon being signed by the Governor or upon a date specified in the legislation. Nothing in this subdivision shall affect the vote requirement for appropriations for the public schools contained in subdivision (d) of this section and in subdivision (b) of Section 8 of this article.
(2) For purposes of this section, “other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill” shall consist only of bills identified as related to the budget in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.
(f) The Legislature may control the submission, approval, and enforcement of budgets and the filing of claims for all state agencies.
(g) For the 2004–05 fiscal year, or any subsequent fiscal year, the Legislature may not send to the Governor for consideration, nor may the Governor sign into law, a budget bill that would appropriate from the General Fund, for that fiscal year, a total amount that, when combined with all appropriations from the General Fund for that fiscal year made as of the date of the budget bill’s passage, and the amount of any General Fund moneys transferred to the Budget Stabilization Account for that fiscal year pursuant to Section 20 of Article XVI, exceeds General Fund revenues for that fiscal year estimated as of the date of the budget bill’s passage. That estimate of General Fund revenues shall be set forth in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.
(h) Notwithstanding any other provision of law or of this Constitution, including subdivision (c) of this section, Section 4 of this article, and Sections 4 and 8 of Article III, in any year in which the budget bill is not passed by the Legislature by midnight on June 15, there shall be no appropriation from the current budget or future budget to pay any salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses for Members of the Legislature during any regular or special session for the period from midnight on June 15 until the day that the budget bill is presented to the Governor. No salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses forfeited pursuant to this subdivision shall be paid retroactively.
(Sec. 12 amended Nov. 2, 2010, by Prop. 25. Initiative measure.)
Within 10 days following the submission of a budget pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 12, following the proposed adjustments to the Governor’s Budget required by subdivision (e) of Section 13308 of the Government Code or a successor statute, and following the enactment of the budget bill, or as soon as feasible thereafter, the Director of Finance shall submit to the Legislature both of the following:
(a) Estimates of General Fund revenues for the ensuing fiscal year and for the three fiscal years thereafter.
(b) Estimates of General Fund expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year and for the three fiscal years thereafter.
(Sec. 12.5 added Nov. 4, 2014, by Prop. 2. Res.Ch. 1, 2013-14 2nd Ex. Sess.)