ABC Regrets California's 'Unwillingness to Raise Taxes'

A Tuesday story on ABC's World News, which ignored soaring state spending, reflected frustration with California voters for the anticipated rejection of ballot initiatives to raise taxes as reporter Laura Marquez blamed the Golden State's budget deficit on an “unwillingness to raise taxes” stretching all the way back to 1978's Proposition 13. In fact, though personal income tax collections “dropped 14% last year,” a Tuesday Wall Street Journal article noted they “soared 70% from 2002 to 2007.”  

In the story pegged to Tuesday's vote on a series of initiatives to raise or extend an income-tax surcharge, a big hike in the car tax and one point sales tax jump to 9 percent, Marquez fretted that “polls show five of six initiatives aimed at reducing the budget gap are likely to be voted down,” leading Schwarzenegger, Marquez relayed, to warn “the defeat of these measures will mean billions of dollars in cuts to social services and education, and will force thousands of layoffs from the state rolls.” From San Francisco, Marquez rued:
Coast to coast, state governments are swimming in red ink, overwhelmed by the tanking economy. Here in California, the problem is even worse because of its sheer size and an unwillingness to raise taxes. Thirty years ago, Californians passed Proposition 13, mandating an almost unachievable two-thirds vote by the legislature to raise taxes.
Viewers then heard from a UC-Berkeley professor who complained about the impediments to raising taxes: “California preferences for spending are we want lots of things, we want it all, but we’ve put in place a decision-making system that prevents us from raising the revenue to pay for that.”

Columnist George Will, a regular on ABC's own This Week, pointed out in a May 3 column what Marquez omitted -- that the state government has hardly been starving for money: “If, since 1990, state spending increases had been held to the inflation rate plus population growth, the state would have a $15 billion surplus instead of a $42 billion budget deficit.” In addition, in Arnold “Schwarzenegger's less than six years as Governor, per capita government spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased nearly 20 percent.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the story on the Tuesday, May 19 edition of ABC's World News:
CHARLES GIBSON: In California today, voters went to the polls for the twelfth time in just seven years to vote on proposals to make up a budget deficit that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has estimated could grow to $21 billion. The government has warned of dire consequences if the proposals fail, and it appears they will fail. Here's Laura Marquez.
            
LAURA MARQUEZ: If Californians once lived the epitome of the American dream, they now find themselves in the midst of a budget nightmare. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature are looking to voters to fix it, and the voters are blaming lawmakers.

NOEL RAGSDALE, CALIFORNIA VOTER: They should, you know, take responsibility for their votes instead of dumping it off onto the voters.

MARQUEZ: Polls show five of six initiatives aimed at reducing the budget gap are likely to be voted down. The exception? One that denies raises to lawmakers in deficit years. The governor warns the defeat of these measures will mean billions of dollars in cuts to social services and education, and will force thousands of layoffs from the state rolls.

ELIZABETH LEWIS, TEACHER: I'm worried about, am I going to be able to pay my bills next year?

MARQUEZ: Coast to coast, state governments are swimming in red ink, overwhelmed by the tanking economy. Here in California, the problem is even worse because of its sheer size and an unwillingness to raise taxes. Thirty years ago, Californians passed Proposition 13, mandating an almost unachievable two-thirds vote by the legislature to raise taxes.

PROFESSOR JOHN ELLWOOD, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA-BERKELEY: California preferences for spending are we want lots of things, we want it all, but we’ve put in place a decision-making system that prevents us from raising the revenue to pay for that.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN CLIP FROM TERMINATOR:  I'll be back.

SCHWARZENEGGER SPEAKING AT A GRADUATION CEREMONY: I'll be back.

MARQUEZ: A system so entrenched it seems to have rendered the action hero turned governor powerless.

PHIL BRONSTEIN, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: What he brought to Sacramento was this power of celebrity. And I think he was counting on that to bend the molecules in the state house.

MARQUEZ: Even if voters were to pass the governor's slate of budget propositions, California will still be $15 billion in the hole. Laura Marquez, ABC News, San Francisco.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center