When you work as close to state government as I do, it's possible to inherit a disease I call "Capitol Myopia." The symptoms include:
- a massive overestimation in the assumed importance of state government in the minds of Californians
- a massive overestimation in the reliance Californians have on state government
- a massive underestimation in the amount of contempt Californians have for their state government
Over the past few months I've written some tongue-in-cheek that take for granted the consequences of budget paralysis in California.
I'm rethinking that paradigm.
The truth is, most Californians rely directly on the state government for very little. If not for a visit to the DMV or a speeding ticket, they would have no interaction whatsoever. Most major regulatory work was completed in the 1970s and 1980s, with any benefits long since realized and taken for granted. Most Californians have no clue what their government actually does anymore.
No, this is not a PR problem. A majority of people pay no taxes anyway, and thus have no reason to care. There's a complete disconnect. During good economic times, government is able to leverage that disconnect to achieve their own ends, but the knife cuts both ways, and during bad times the citizenry is unconcerned and unmoved.
Which may be the right attitude. "Who cares if there's a budget crisis? Cut as much as you have to, just don't raise my taxes." Because most people will be just fine with a much smaller state government. Hell, they probably won't even notice the difference.
From the state of the state today:
Our citizens do not believe that we in government are in touch with their needs. Now, these needs are not unreasonable, may I remind you. At the end of the day most people do not require a great deal from their government. They expect just simply the fundamentals. They want to live in safety, they want good education for their children, they want jobs, they want to breathe clean air, they want water when they turn on the faucet, they want electricity when they turn on the switch and they want those things delivered efficiently and economically. One of the reasonable expectations that the public has of government is that it will produce a sound and balanced budget.