The voters of California have spoken and cut the property tax. Now we get to hear from the state and municipal employes affected. And they might get nasty.
Bureaucracies typically react to income loss and rifs (reductions in force) not by cooperation but by retaliation. You can see that when a school board is in danger of running out of money. The healthful reaction would be to cut the nonessential services so that the essential teaching of the three R's could go on to the end of the school year. But it never works that way. Spending patterns are left unaltered so that the whole system runs out of dough somewhere in March, thus precipitating a crisis which is meant to force the voters to cough up the missing moolah.
The retaliatory tricks are endless. Californians should brace themselves for well-publicized withdrawals of police protection from high-crime situations while officers spend time writing parking tickets or on eyewash jobs in the precinct house. Garbage pickup will be slower and sloppier and so on and on and on.
Every complaint will be met with the churlish remark of, "Well, that's what you get for voting for Proposition 13, buddy." Most government institutions have yet to develop a tradition or even a capacity for meeting revenue loss, as the rest of us try to do, by hiking productivity.
California parents will be threatened with huge jumps in class size. Administrators will hide the existence of thousands of non-teaching teachers devoting their days to textbook evaluation and curriculum developments. Imbecilic pedagogical specialties like sex ed and driver ed will be kept, but high school football will be canceled because that'll buck sports-minded parents as well as giving educationalist a chance to make a fatuously dire predictions that projected increases in juvenile deliquency.
As these anti-tax fights erupts across the country, few people take the bureaucracy's side. Millions, including trade unionists working in the private sector, don't believe they get service for their tax money or the service they do get is so poor and so discourteously rendered they hate the people dispensing it. Whereas the underpaid and boss-prodded teen-ager at the franchise foot outlet featuring Wumperburgers and Thunderfries always says thank you, have a nice day, the government clerk is rude, indifferent and unhelpful.
Well, all those impolite clerks got paid back by the California voters, but it's been decades since the bureaucracies have lost a round. If property taxes are to be cut, then you will see a corresponding pressure on Washington to pick up the tab for the missing money: the world which once divided federal from local expenditures has long since been breached. The national government may now finance any local government activity without offending the principles of federalism. That was what President Nixon's new federalisn was about. Through it, and its most pernicious operating mechanism, revenue sharing, any and every there-tofore purely local program is now watered with money from the federal treasury.
It's politically easier to raise revenue in Washington than to do it locally so that both parties love the aspect of the new federalism. The city and county employes most likely to be riffed as a result of property tax cuts are well organized in unions and professional associations so that while they are not strong enough to work their absolute will on Congress, they will be in a good position to gain back in Washington what the voters back home took away from them.
If yet higher percentages of the money for local governments should come from Washington the homefolks will find their ability to control their city bureaucracies lessened by just that much more. One of the outcomes of Proposition 13 may be that the clerk behind the government waiting counter won't lose his jobnor do it better. He may simply be ruder.