Recently in The Budget Category

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about "Obama spending" and "Obama deficits" and how the "Stimulus" just made things worse. Solution: Here are three "reality-based" charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.

Spending

Bush-Obama Spending Chart

Government spending increased dramatically under Bush. It has not increased much under Obama. Note that this chart does not reflect any spending cuts resulting from deficit-cutting deals.

Deficits

Bush-Obama Deficit Chart

Notes, this chart includes Clinton's last budget year for comparison.

The numbers in these two charts come from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2012. They are just the amounts that the government spent and borrowed, period, Anyone can go look then up. People who claim that Obama "tripled the deficit" are either misled or are trying to mislead.

The Stimulus and Jobs

Bush-Obama-Jobs-Chart

In this chart, the RED lines on the left side -- the ones that keep doing DOWN -- show what happened to jobs under the policies of Bush and the Republicans. We were losing lots and lots of jobs every month, and it was getting worse and worse. The BLUE lines -- the ones that just go UP -- show what happened to jobs when the stimulus was in effect. We stopped losing jobs and started gaining jobs, and it was getting better and better. The leveling off on the right side of the chart shows what happened as the stimulus started to wind down: job creation leveled off at too low a level.

It looks a lot like the stimulus reversed what was going on before the stimulus.

Conclusion: THE STIMULUS WORKED BUT WAS NOT ENOUGH!

More False Things

These are just three of the false things that everyone "knows." Some others are (click through): Obama bailed out the banks, businesses will hire if they get tax cuts, health care reform cost $1 trillion, Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme or is "going broke", government spending "takes money out of the economy."

Why This Matters

These things really matter. We all want to fix the terrible problems the country has. But it is so important to know just what the problems are before you decide how to fix them. Otherwise the things you do to try to solve those problems might just make them worse. If you get tricked into thinking that Obama has made things worse and that we should go back to what we were doing before Obama -- tax cuts for the rich, giving giant corporations and Wall Street everything they want -- when those are the things that caused the problems in the first place, then we will be in real trouble.


This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.


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Austerity -- cutting government benefits and services -- is not the path to fixing deficits. In fact, economists warn that trying to fix a sluggish economy by cutting government spending will just make things worse. Worse yet, this approach can have damaging effects that last into the future. This can be easily shown with simple calculations.

Economist Brad DeLong talks about Simple Deficit Reduction Arithmetic: A Comment on Kash Mansouri, commenting on Kash Mansouri's post Some Simple Deficit Reduction Arithmetic.

Start with Kash who sets it up with an easy-to-picture $100 economy.:

Suppose we are in a country that is running a large budget deficit but, for whatever reason, decides that it needs to dramatically reduce it. Take your pick of examples, because there are plenty to choose from: Greece, the UK, the US...

Suppose that the country - let's call it Austerityland - has a GDP of $100/year, and a budget deficit of $10/yr, or 10% of GDP. And suppose that the government decides it wants to get the deficit down to 5% of GDP. How can it get there?

No, the answer is not "cut spending by $5/yr".

OK, so we have a $100 GDP with $10 deficits and we want to cut that to $5. Kash explains that a $5 spending cut means (by definition) that GDP immediately drops $5, and this (by definition) $5 drop in consumer income makes tax revenue drop as well (as well as a further drop in GDP). After some calculations (go to the post) Kash shows that a $5 cut makes deficits drop to 7.4%, not 5%, but GDP also drops quite a bit - maybe 7 or 8%. Seriously, go see the calculations, they are not difficult.

So much of our current deficit is because of the Great Recession. Obviously we don't want to force the economy back into recession with budget cuts causing a big drop in GDP!

(Note, if this spending cut happens at a time when interest rates are high, then the rates might fall as spending cuts reduce demand, which might help spur investment, but in the US interest rates are zero so this won't happen. The only thing that will happen is demand is reduced and the economy slows.)

Kash concludes,

Why do people keep getting surprised that austerity doesn't work as well as hoped to reach budget deficit targets? ...

But when basic Macro 101 both makes good theoretical sense and also fits what we actually observe, it's really time to start looking for your handy Occam's Razor.

In the UK we observe that this effect is now proven as their austerity has forced a big drop in GDP. And the same is happening with Greece as their austerity forces their economy to slow.

But Wait, It Gets Worse

After linking to this post DeLong takes the warning a bit further, pointing out that if some of the "austerity-induced output decline turns into a permanent reduction in potential output" then the "spending cuts this year lowers future annual tax collections..." which means it hurts your ability to pay off debt. Or, in other words, "that austerity today worsens the debt burden." Click through to see DeLong's calculations.

Got that? Harming the economy on purpose with spending cuts harms the economy in the future, too.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.


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When I participated in my first budget battle as a new member of the California Assembly back in the late 1990s, I was admonished that the budget isn't just a collection of numbers. It is a moral statement of our values as a people and a community. The budgets proposed by the Republicans -- both in California and in Washington, D.C. -- clearly show that today's Republican Party values millionaires over working families and Big Oil over seniors.

In California, we have not been able to extract a single Republican vote to extend the current tax rates necessary to protect our schools and create infrastructure to generate jobs. In Congress, the Republicans have gone so far as to adopt a budget that would end Medicare as we know it, turning it into a voucher or coupon program.

This the wrong direction for medical care because it would force seniors to fend for themselves on the private insurance market and continually pay more for their health care costs. The Republicans have yet to explain how they plan to force insurance companies to cover seniors, an age group that is not profitable to insure. How will they insure these people? Will insurance companies continue to increase premiums across the board, as they are doing now? Of course they will. That's why the Medicare system was created in the first place -- because seniors were the most likely to be uninsured, only 14 percent having medical coverage when the program started. While the Medicare system needs reforms to control costs, the answer is not to force our seniors to navigate a private insurance market that will do everything it can to withhold coverage and services. Reducing access and affordability during life's most difficult moments is morally wrong and not the American way of caring for its vulnerable and deserving citizens.

The same Republican budget would extend tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and continue unnecessary subsidies for Big Oil, at a time of record profits and high prices at the pump. So here we are: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Republican plan would have your grandparents pay an additional $6,000 out of pocket every year to cover their medical bills so that the Warren Buffets of the world can receive an additional $200,000 tax break and, at the same time, give Big Oil nearly $8 billion a year in subsidies while they continue to make record profits. It begs the question: What exactly do these Republicans value?

Not only is this plan bad for the American people, Americans do not want it. The Republicans in our legislatures are turning a deaf ear to the fact that 84 percent of Americans oppose their plan to privatize Medicare and reduce benefits and 74 percent support eliminating tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. A majority of Americans support eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. Even close to 60 percent of Independents support eliminating tax cuts for Americans making over $250,000 a year.

There is a better plan, one that will eliminate the deficit and create a surplus by 2021, contrary to the Republican plan that continues to blow holes in the current deficit. The "People's Budget" advanced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus doesn't attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class, children and seniors, the most vulnerable among us. It would get our fiscal house in order by eliminating tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and make sure they pay their fair share. It would close tax loopholes so that well-paid accountants can't reduce the tax obligations of the wealthy and big corporations to zero. It would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, finally bringing our troops home and stop the expenditures of billions of dollars a day in other countries when we need to invest right here at home. It would enact a comprehensive jobs program to put America back to work so there are more taxpayers paying into the Treasury and fewer Americans dependent on the social safety net. It would enact a public health insurance option that will create more competition with private insurance companies and reduce premiums for all Americans. That is the direction we should be taking -- giving more to the people and less to billionaires and Big Oil. It is a responsible approach that will bring hope, opportunity, dignity and fairness back to our public policy. We can do this and we must if we want to ensure that we really are committed to the future and the American Dream.

This appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press, May 8, 2011


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From Sacramento Bee's Capital Alert: Steinberg considers cuts targeting GOP districts,
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today said he is willing to consider calls to target GOP districts with steeper cuts if legislative Republicans will not vote for taxes or to put taxes on a statewide ballot as part of a budget solution. ... The Sacramento Democrat said he thinks a targeted-cuts scenario like the one state Treasurer Bill Lockyer laid out in an interview with the Bay Area News Group-East Bay's editorial board comes down to "basic fairness." "You don't want to pay for government, well then, you get less of it," he said.
This is an interesting approach. They say this is what their constituents demand, so let them get what they want!

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IS IT TIME TO TRY ANOTHER APPROACH?

You've got to give Governor Brown major kudos for his patience and tenacity in trying to make a deal with the Legislature's Republicans. With the state facing a game-changing $26B budget gap, after already reducing general fund spending over the past several years by an estimated $14B, give or take a few billion, the state is at a precipice. Are we going to face the future with great ambition and vision or are we going to fall off a cliff and perhaps never recover our role in the nation and world as the place that "invents the future"? The Democrats have already agreed to a balanced approach and made an additional $12-14B in cuts to close the gap. But where's the rest going to come from? If we want to decimate the state, then the balance will be cuts as well. Say good-bye to quality education-at any level; care for the neediest Californians; public safety; adequate police and fire-services when man-made or natural crisis appears; maintaining and repairing our infrastructure--roads, bridges, sewers; assuring clean air and water and all the other services and programs we take for granted in a civilized world. The list is long and deep. But the Republicans today don't care--in fact, that don't want government to succeed and some are brazen enough to admit it.

Let's face it: Today's Republican "leaders" in the legislature bear no resemblance to those who preceded them and this "new breed" is committed to dismantling government-sponsored efforts, most of which help the poor and middle class. The wealthy continue to accumulate vast amounts of money and the rest of us continue to suffer as a result. While there may be a few of these "leaders" who realize that politics is the art of compromise, they're under so much pressure and, frankly, so spineless in the face of that pressure, that they're just not willing or able to make a deal. Governor Brown is desperately trying to make a deal and put the state in a position so it can recover and once again prosper. But with a 2/3 requirement to do anything meaningful in this state--like raise taxes or put a measure on the ballot without the tedious and time-consuming signature gathering process, Brown can't and won't win. He's got to be at the point where he realizes that he can't work with these people. For those of us who believe that government plays an important and integral role in making society work, we can only hope that the Governor won't, out of desperation, capitulate to the unreasonable demands being put forth by the few Republicans who are taking on the "good-cop" role with the other Republicans as the "bad cop." Demands like a permanent "hard" spending cap is and must be a non-starter, for example. It's simply bad for the future of this state. Of course, the "good cops" continue to put new and different demands on the table---up to 53 at last count, which would cause anyone to pull out his or her hair, so it's a good thing Jerry doesn't have to deal with that problem.

But what Jerry Brown is also dealing with is the fact that after a decade or more of Republican sound-bites saying that we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem, the public has drunk that kool-aid. Of course, part of the blame falls on Democrats who haven't had an equally as effective and cute sound-bite in response. Instead, they go into great detail about the various nuances and responsibilities of government, the complexities of budgets, etc. It's enough to make one's eyes glaze over---and they do.

The perception is that government is too big and too bloated. Unfortunately, the public also notes that the Democrats have been claiming for years that the sky is falling but it never has----Of course, that's because we have borrowed enormous amounts of money to keep the sky up. Unfortunately, we're about the pay the piper and that may be where we might have to go before the public steps up.

Hopefully Governor Brown will look for another approach. He is very smart, creative and determined, but right now the numbers and the public aren't supportive of the obvious options and I think he's stuck. Of course, one should never underestimate Jerry Brown, but right now the right-wing anti-government ideologues who want to destroy public education and infrastructure so they can privatize the state are winning this battle.


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On the heels of Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Iowa, Tennessee, Florida and other states, California Republicans have introduced a Wisconsin-style bill to strip public employees of the right to union bargaining. San Francisco Chronicle, yesterday, Showdown brewing over CA state employee pensions,
   
On Tuesday, Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa (Orange County), introduced a bill that would strip public employees of their ability to collectively bargain for retirement benefits.
But what else would you expect? What is interesting is the rest of the story

The recent Speak Out California post, Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers looked into who is behind the attack on public employees, tracing back from an LA Times op-ed by Marcia Fritz of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. Fritz pops up again in the Chronicle story,
   
That [pension reform] "isn't just a state problem, it's far worse in cities," said Marcia Fritz, president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit pension reform group. ... "We need the leader of California to stand up and lead on this issue," Fritz said. "And if he doesn't, we'll go around him, just like people did on Proposition 13 (in 1978 during Brown's first stint as governor). And I don't think he wants that."
Also popping up in the Chronicle story,

"I don't think Brown wants to take on his union pals," said Steven Greenhut, author of "Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation."
From Speak Out California's Discover The Network Out To Crush Our Public Workers,
   
The Pacific Research Institute has a mission to "champion freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility for all individuals by advancing free-market policy solutions." The Director of PRI's Journalism Center wrote a book called, "Plunder: How Public Employee Unions are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling our Lives and Bankrupting the Nation."
In the "Network" post I wrote about "Cookie-Cutter Think Tanks,"
   
These are just a few of the network of conservative "institutes," etc. around the country. Just a very few. (Here is a list of 185 organizations purporting to be conservative state think tanks, a list of 40 conservative national organizations with state networks and a list of 306 organizations purporting to be conservative national think tanks and 65 conservative "family policy" organizations. There are other lists with other criteria.) 
As you follow these threads you discover layer upon layer of corporate/conservative front groups, masking their activities and funders with more layers of front groups. They all have similar mission statements, have similar people on their Boards with similar backgrounds, cover the same issues the same way, and even use remarkably similar language. They seem to be not just connected but interconnected. The sheer number of these similar "think tanks" make it appear that there must be a machine somewhere that stamps these things from a template. That machine is named "Scaife/Coors/Koch..." (Please read also and spend some time here.)
I haven't written Part II of the post yet, but in the research I found a "think tank" that had no purpose except to release one "study" by Lanny Ebenstein of the California Center for Public Policy, which is not to be confused with with the California Public Policy Center, of Pension Tsunami, which is discussed in the post. In today's Santa Ynez Valley Journal story, END APPROACHING FOR PUBLIC UNIONS?, Ebenstein pops up, with a new organization:
   
... a new group called Californians for Public Union Reform has spearheaded an effort to place an initiative on next year's state ballot that would end employee collective bargaining, the behind-closed-doors process by which unions negotiate salaries, health care and other retirement benefits on behalf of employees. 
Lanny Ebenstein, chairman of the group and a professor of economics at UCSB, said the proposal to curtail collective bargaining is a key component to fiscal reform, and one that he believes will help solve California's budgetary woes the same way Walker thinks the decertification of all public-sector unions will balance Wisconsin's budget. ... 
 "Something is fundamentally wrong with the system, and it's obvious what the elephant in the room is: Public sector employees are receiving too much compensation," he said.
That's the ticket, public employees -- teachers, police, DMV workers -- caused the recession. THEY are the reason states are out of money. Tax cuts for the rich had nothing to do with it.

Right. Blame the workers, who have already taken pay cuts, increased retirement age, foreclosures, etc.  Certainly not Wall Street or the wealthy who are taking an ever greater share of the country's income and wealth...

P.S. There is a Rally to Save the American Dream in Sacramento this Saturday, being organized by MoveOn.org and others to support working people, details here.

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Sacramento is still stuck.  George Skelton lays it out in the LA Times, in, California lawmakers need to get moving,

   
Republicans can't get out of their fix without angering the anti-tax crowd they cower to. Either they compromise and allow a tax extension measure to be placed on a special election ballot or they're seen as obstructionists or, worse, irrelevant, doing nothing in Sacramento except drawing their public pay and perks.

. . . Democrats seem to be moving at a brisk pace on spending cuts, but Republicans still are crawling on tax negotiations.

. . . The Legislature needs to pass a compromise package within the next three or four weeks in order for Brown to call a special election in June. If that deadline is missed, the earliest balloting would be in late September, because voters tend to ignore political pitches during the summer vacation season.

Republicans hold just over 1/3 of the votes in Sacramento. That is just enough to block everything, including allowing the public to express their wishes. And that is what they are doing. A shutdown seems to be their goal.

Update -- Dick Morris lays out the Republican strategy nationally, and it clearly is the same as in California: Create a budget deadlock on purpose, never mind the effect on citizens, use it to increase your own political power:

A Budget Deadlock Will Defeat Obama, But a Compromise Might Save Him,

A budget deadlock, played out over months, will doom President Obama and assure his defeat. But an easily won compromise will help him get re-elected.

. . . If the Republicans hold firm in demanding huge spending cuts and Obama does not give in, the question of whether or not to cut spending will dominate the nation's political discourse for months on end and will spill over into the 2012 election.

To assure that it will, the Republicans should hold firm to their budget spending cuts without surrender or compromise. If necessary, it is OK to vote a few very short term continuing resolutions to keep the government open for a few weeks at a time, always keeping on the pressure.

. . . If Obama offers a half a loaf, the GOP should spurn it for weeks and months.

Does this or does it not sound exactly like the Republican plan in California, too?


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Today's State of the State speech lasted about 15 minutes. This was actually a speech that regular people would enjoy listening to:

The interesting thing about this speech is that it was clearly not "crafted" by speechwriters. It was Jerry being Jerry, straightforward, open, and to the point.

Summary: he said we need to get the budget straightened out, that we have a great opportunity to really go places as a state if we do this, that he has presented a plan to do this and wants to take the plan to the voters, and if anyone has a better idea please tell us what it is.

One notable thing about the speech was it was entirely about trying to get the Republicans to cooperate with anything at all. Republicans are trying to prevent taking Brown's plan to the voters, prevent passing anything with any taxes, prevent any budget that allows the government to operate as a government, and prevent ... everything.

So Brown spent most of the speech outlining why it is wrong to prevent the public from being allowed to vote. Following are a few notes paraphrasing what he said:

Under our form of government it would be unconscionable to tell the voters they can't decide.

The state's Constitution says all political power is inherent in the people.

"When democratic ideals and calls for the right to vote are stirring the imagination of young people in Egypt and Tunisia and other parts of the world, we in California can't say now is the time to block a vote of the people,"

The only way forward is to go back to the people and seek their guidance.

If you want to block the people's right to vote, stand up to say block that vote. (No one stood up.)

My plan to rebuild California requires a vote of the people, and frankly, I believe it would be irresponsible to exclude the people from this process. They have a right to vote on this plan. This state belongs to all of us, not just those in this chamber. Given the unique nature of the crisis and the serious impact our decisions will have on millions of Californians, whether it's more cuts, extend taxes, the voters deserve to be heard.

It's the best budget I can devise, if any of you have any suggestions on how it can be better please share them with me. No one has offered even one alternative solution.

If we can get our budget in order we are in a good position to take advantage of our assets.



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Here is MY deficit-reduction plan. This plan does not reflect the views of anyone but myself -- and maybe half the population. Unlike deficit plans from the "serious people" in DC, this one doesn't annihilate the poor and gut Social Security and the middle class while passing even more of the benefits of our society up to a few at the top.

1) Restore pre-Reagan top tax rates. We didn't have massive deficits until we reduced the top tax rates.

2) Income is income. No more reduced capital gains tax rate. The incentive to invest should be to make a bunch of money from a good investment. The reason there is a low capital gains tax rate is that the wealthy get most of their income from capital gains. And the reason they get most of their income from capital gains is there is a low capital gains rate. The resulting income shifting schemes are a drag on the rest of us. (Also applies to dividends.)

3) Income is income. Inheritance income should be taxed as income, except there should be a "democracy cap" on how much someone can inherit. We decided not to have an aristocracy when we founded this country so we shouldn't have one.

4) Businesses should be taxed or not taxed, but not taxed AND not taxed. They shouldn't be able to use "double Irish" or "Dutch sandwich" or operate out of PO boxes in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. (Bonus, this also helps reduce incentives to send our jobs and factories out of the country.)

5) If you don't pay your taxes We, the People won't pay to provide you with services. We can start by not allowing you to have a driveway that connects to public streets, or water/sewer hookups or mail. Also we won't enforce any contracts for you, including the one that says you "own" your house(s). And no government-developed Internet for you.

If companies like Google want to "double Irish" and "Dutch Sandwich" us or operate out of PO boxes in tax havens, we shouldn't let them use government services like courts, or the government-developed Internet. See how well they operate without access to roads (that includes for employees to get to go to work.) How about withdrawing the limited liability protection that investors in corporations receive? And of course no protection for "intellectual property" or trademarks. Oh, yeah, no access to anyone who went to a school that used tax dollars. And no government services means no sea-lane protection for your products shipping from Chinese factories, by the way.

6) Speaking of sea-lane protection, why do we have a military budget comparable to when we faced nuclear annihilation by the Soviet empire? Bases in Germany and Japan? And why can I go to this website, pick a DC-area zip code, say 22314, and learn that "Dollar Amount of Defense Contracts Awarded to Contractors in this Zip Code from 2000 to 2009: $7,086,397,848." Seriously, scroll down the page and look at some of the contracts and amounts awarded. I suspect there's some serious deficit reduction to be found in the military budget. A comprehensive and very public audit of where all that money has been going since, say, 1981 might take a chunk out of the debt problem all by itself

7) I could start listing all the corporate subsidies, tax breaks, monopoly grants, schemes, contracts, etc. that we pay for, but I think you get the idea. How about calling bribery by its name: bribery, and doing something about it?

8) To the extent that implementing this plan does not clear up the deficit and start paying off the debt, how about a yearly national property tax on all individual holdings above, say, $5 million, with the tax rate progressively increasing as total wealth increases, and keep doing this each year until the debt is paid off. Perhaps start at 1% on $5 million, 2.5% at $10 million, 5% at $50 million, etc. (Hedge fund managers and investment bankers start at 50% and go up, just for the heck of it. We can call this the "get the money from where the money went tax.")

So there is MY deficit-reduction plan. Or, instead, we could do what the "serious people" deficit-reduction plans do: cut services for We, the People, cut Social Security, cut health care, cut education, cut infrastructure, cut the things that make life better for people, and give all the money to a few at the top. Take your pick.

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am also a Fellow with CAF.


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Here's a surprise, in a recent poll of Californians The Field Poll asked if Californians want to balance the state's budget by having their taxes raised, and a lot of people said they would prefer not to have their taxes raised.

The poll mysteriously did not ask if people would prefer that large corporations, who got their taxes cut in the most recent budget negotiations, should pay for their use of the state's infrastructure.  It did not ask if oil companies should pay a bit for the oil they take out of the ground here to sell back to us.  It did not ask of the wealthiest Californians -- some of whom pay no taxes at all -- should be asked to pay a fair share to support the infrastructure that enabled them to become wealthy.

The poll only asked people what they think of raising taxes.  Only 9% think California's budget should be balanced using only tax increases.

The poll asked if the budget should be balanced using spending cuts only.  31% said yes. The poll did not ask what specific spending to cut.  I suspect people would have answered that the state should cut only that spending that is wasted, but certainly not any of the spending that is used for services they find necessary, like schools or roads or police.  Cut that other stuff.  It did not explain what spending cuts mean to the respondents, that class sizes have grown enormous, that college tuition has increased beyond what people can afford, or that elderly ill people cannot get basic services.  They would answer, cut that other stuff but not stuff that affects any of us.

The poll asked if people feel the state should balance the budget using an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases.  29% said yes.   It did not point out that people have always answered polls this way but the state has been only cutting and cutting for years and years.

The poll also asked if people feel the state is responding to their needs.  That would be the same state that has been cutting services for years and years, while giving big tax breaks to corporations.  Surprisingly a lot of people feel that the state is not responding to their needs.

The poll did not ask if people wanted a pony.

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