Paul Krugman devotes a column to the localized levels of the economic meltdown: But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will
December 29, 2008

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Paul Krugman devotes a column to the localized levels of the economic meltdown:

But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.

These state-level cutbacks range from small acts of cruelty to giant acts of panic — from cuts in South Carolina’s juvenile justice program, which will force young offenders out of group homes and into prison, to the decision by a committee that manages California state spending to halt all construction outlays for six months.

Now, state governors aren’t stupid (not all of them, anyway). They’re cutting back because they have to — because they’re caught in a fiscal trap. But let’s step back for a moment and contemplate just how crazy it is, from a national point of view, to be cutting public services and public investment right now.

Krugman is right, but there is a dimension of this that goes unmentioned: Many of these states and their governors are in fact constrained by right-wing ideology and its effects as well.

All across America, anti-tax ideologues have, over the past generation or so, managed to pass -- often through state-level initiatives -- laws that not only require states to meet balanced budgets, but hamstrung their ability to gather revenues.

Here in Washington state, we've been plagued by the efforts of a character named Tim Eyman, who successfully championed measures that capped property taxes and motor-vehicle licensing fees, and unsuccessfully attempted a number of other measures. In Oregon, it's a similar character named Bill Sizemore. Indeed, ever since the days of California's Howard Jarvis, there have been anti-tax initiatives similarly hamstringing state governance all across the country.

The conservative ideologues running these campaigns loved to appeal to people's cheapness and the Reaganesque belief that government is the problem. And now, we're seeing the results of that short-sighted worldview.

As we start digging ourselves out of this economic mess, we're not only going to have to undo the toxic effects of conservative ideology on the federal level, but at the state level too. And the next time some demagogue starts promising that he can make things better by slashing taxes and revenues and government, we'll all know better than to listen.

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