Those Californians jubilant over their "victory" over big government spending soon may feel the wrath of state and local officials, if they apply the old WMC (Washington Monument Cut) routine to them.
The WMC is the catch-all name for a clever political-bureaucratic strategy designed to bring citizens to heeling high taxes. The idea is to make life so miserable for them that they will ask for an end to the "economies" they originally demanded, and have them begging for a return to the "good old days" of higher taxes. It sounds silly but, unfortunately, if often works.
This is what has happened: California voters, in a record turnout, approved a constitutional amendment that not only rolls back property taxes, but also makes it more difficult for legislators, to raise taxes in the future. The taxpayer revolt has worried both state and federal officials who fear the tax-cutting idea will spread.
In trying to head off the successful vote on Proposition 13, as the California amendment was called, politicians from Gov. Jerry Brown to local dog catchers warned of vital service cuts that would have to be made.
They stood on the hoods of their air-conditioned limousines, and wrote furious memos from plush darpeted offices telling people how dangerous this economy stuff can be. Now, one fears, they are going to have to show the voters the folly of their ways. That is where a Washington Monument Cut comes in.
A WMC attack can come in many ways. Residents can be told that the police force will work only day shifts; that firemen won't be able to repair their hoses and you-know-what-that-means; or that maybe there will be no garbage pickup for the month of August.
Here's how it works in the textbook case of a WMC:
Let us say that Congress cuts the Interior Department budget. Interior is into lots of things, including managing the nation's parks, and tourist attractions like the Washington Monument.
Interior says, Okay, you've cut our budget. Guess what? We are going to have to shut down elevator service at the Washington Monument. You want to get to the top? Climb the stairs of the 555-foot building. And by the way, the stairs were closed earlier because so many people were having heart attacks climbing them.
Take that a step further. Cut the Department of Transportation budget, for example. DOT, in turn, hits everybody with a WMC by threatening to stop paying overtime to air traffic controllers.
Talk about economies in the Postal Service and the postmaster general starts talking about closing local post offices or eliminating Saturday service.
Ask for lower utility bills and the electric company tells you to stop using so much electricity. When you do that, you are hit with a surcharge because not enough energy was used.
The point is that whenever people demand seemingly legitimate relief in the price of government, the government too often responds by cutting out the most essential service. It is a way, an effective way, of rubbing the taxpayers nose in the economy he or she wants.
The California vote in favor of Proposition may be a good thing. Or, maybe the politicians were right and it went too far.
But Washington experts, who are genuine experts in this sort of thing, think that the Golden State may be in for a series of stick-it-to-them service cuts aimed at taking the starch out of the taxpayer revolt.
After all, if the Californians get away with it, that sort of thing could spread, eventually threatening the limos, executive dining rooms, travel and other expensive perks some of our top public servants demand as the price of serving the public.
Leadership Training: More than 50 area leaders of the American Federation of Government Employes are out at the George Meany Labor Studies Center this week. Purpose of the session is to build skills in everything from grievance procedure handling to public relations.
Hispanic Power: Several hundred officials of IMAGE, the national organization devoted to improving pay and job status of Hispanics in government, are meeting at the Capital Hilton this week. They are being joined by top state, local and federal officials. Labor Secretary F. Ray Marshal was keynoter.