This Bitter Pill Is Too Hard to Swallow

Like all good Californians, I guess I'm supposed to open my mouth and take my medicine next week at the polls.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been telling us this is the way it has to be, and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is one of many Democratic pushovers who agree that Proposition 57 is the way to fix what ails us.

If Californians fail to pass the $15-billion bond measure, they warn in their fear campaign, we'll face Armageddon. All the Prop. 57 cheerleaders love using that word.

Well, guess what.

I don't want to take my medicine. And I particularly don't appreciate having someone try to ram it down my throat.

Reasonable people can certainly conclude that Prop. 57 is an acceptable way to begin digging out of our horrible mess. But I'm tired of being told it's the only way, particularly by a flip-flop governor who campaigned as a committed critic of borrowing.

Schwarzenegger, the anti-special interest candidate, will be in New York this week at a $500,000-a-plate dinner. He wants to make sure he can bankroll the estimated $10-million blitz of Prop. 57 ads we'll be forced to endure between now and March 2.

You won't see any ads from the other side, because all the big money is lined up in support of Prop. 57, which should tell you all you need to know.

If there were an ad for the other side, it'd go something like this:

Remember the last time you and your family had trouble balancing the books?

Chances are, you did what all of us do. You cut back a little, you logged a few hours of overtime or found some other way to boost your income, and you reluctantly pulled out the credit cards as a last resort.

Gov. Schwarzenegger wants to use credit cards as a first option, running up an ungodly debt that would saddle you and your children with the tab for years to come.

Why? Because his wealthy friends on Wall Street and in California will make out like bandits under his plan, while middle-class and low-income families get the short end of the stick.

As state Treasurer Phil Angelides explains, Prop. 57 would be almost entirely paid for by a portion of the existing sales tax, which means middle- and lower-income families would fork over a higher portion of their incomes than the wealthy. They'd also get whacked when $1.2 billion worth of that sales tax was diverted annually from existing services to pay off Prop. 57.

The cuts "won't come from repair service on yachts," Angelides said. Lower and higher education, health care and other programs vital to working families will take the hit.

So far, Californians seem to be wise to the ruse. A poll last week showed only 38% support for Prop. 57. But who knows what 10 days and $10 million worth of shilling by a movie star can accomplish?

In the event Prop. 57 tanks, Angelides, a Democrat, has offered up a Plan B. The only problem I have with it is that it isn't Plan A.

Angelides would do some cutting, borrow less and pay it off faster, and raise money from two taxes.

One is an existing 1/4-cent sales tax that would be used to retire Prop. 57 debt under Schwarzenegger's plan. The Angelides alternative would draw on that 1/4 cent for just three years, as opposed to at least three times as long under Prop. 57.

The other tax would temporarily hike the top income bracket on the wealthiest Californians.

If anyone in that group is planning to call up and scream at me about your unfair burden, cancel your subscription or send me three-hanky stories about the hard work it took to get to the top, I'm asking you to hold off until at least the next paragraph.

Angelides' plan would raise taxes to the precise levels used by former Republican Govs. Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson.

Individuals making $140,000 and couples making $280,000 would go from 9.3% to 10%. Individuals making $280,000 and couples making $560,000 would go from 9.3% to 11%.

That doesn't sound to me like a tragic amount of suffering, especially when you take the following into consideration:

"When you restore the Reagan-Wilson 11% tax bracket," Angelides says, that raises $2.4 billion in one year and affects roughly 1% of the population. The "same 1% gets $12.76 billion worth of federal tax cuts this year," by Angelides' accounting.

"What's happening here," he says, "is that taxes we used to have under Wilson and Reagan and Clinton at federal and state levels have been washed away, and that's part of the reason we have today's problems."

You haven't heard any of this, naturally, from Schwarzenegger or the lackey, star-struck Democrats who've been carrying his water on Prop. 57.

Darkness is on the horizon, and they've barely got time to warn us of the coming Armageddon.

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