PPA: California’s Budget and Prop. 34 essay

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After you have finished the Budget Balancer tool, what was the remaining deficit, if any? - Which programs did you cut the most? Why? - Which programs did you not cut? Why? - Did you raise any taxes? Why/not? 

On finishing using the Budget Balancer tool, I came out with a state budget surplus of $13.6 million.

I approached the task with the mindset that I would not cut the budgets of areas where the state plays a vital role. Education is vital for California if its population is to enjoy long-term economic stability. For example, it would be a shame if the state which hosts Silicon Valley could not provide a local workforce to populate it. I therefore maintained the current level of funding in K-12 schools and kept all university, community college funding and grants at their present level.

Public safety is also an area in which government funding is vital. Citizens should be protected from convicted criminals, who in turn should be given the opportunity of correction. Prisoners must be given the opportunity to end substance abuse and learn life skills. Otherwise, jails become merely stopping points between crimes at best and a place to sharpen crime skills at worst. Similarly, illegal immigrants should not be automatically deported. It may cost even more to do this than to hold them. Funding should be made available to help them either become legal immigrants or provide prospects for countries from which they come. The latter would see fewer people needing to leave.

Furthermore, I did not cut budgets in any of the other government services, such as parks and conservation. My reasoning behind this is that the state employs a lot of people, who provide the population with a high standard of living. Cuts would mean both more unemployment and worse public services.

As I decided to prioritize maintaining expenditure on government services, I had to raise taxes. I did this with the approach of trying not to hit personal budgets on fundamental expenditure. That said, I took the undoubtedly controversial step of raising gas tax by $1 per gallon. Having looked at gas prices in different European countries, I noticed that the average price in California is today almost half that of the price in the UK, Spain, Germany and France. There is therefore plenty of room to increase tax. Businesses and individuals alike can live with higher gas prices and should be encouraged to buy lower consumption or alternative fuel vehicles to reduce environmental damage. In a similar vain, I increased the vehicle license fee and crude oil tax. Speed cameras should be installed to encourage road safety.

I also raised cigarette taxes to the maximum of $4 a pack. Smoking is avoidable and massive health risk. It creates heartache in families and costs a lot to the public health budget. People should be discouraged from smoking and those who do should contribute to healthcare costs.

My intention was to avoid increasing direct taxation on individuals, as I feel the economy is boosted and jobs are created when people have purchasing power. Nevertheless, I felt that in comparison with other parts of the world, a 10% and 11% tax for those earning $300,000 and $600,000 a year respectively was fair and provided a lot of money for government services. I eliminated the business tax break, as the state should be control tax formulas for businesses in its territory. I tried to avoid an income tax on social security, but the expense of not doing so is too high. I therefore taxed it to the minimum of $35 million.

Are you for or against Prop. 34? Why?

Proposition 34 suggests that the death penalty be abolished in California and applied retrospectively. In other words, those currently on death row will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole. On the face of it, this proposal seems like a measure that will lead to less protection of citizens and less deterrent from committing murder.

However, there are several factors that such a simplistic view would overlook. From a basic economic perspective, the Legislative Analyst’s report shows that the state budget would save $130 million each year if there were no death penalty.

Of course, this issue is not merely about state budgets. The death penalty was abolished in many countries in the mid-twentieth century. It was seen as ineffectual in curbing murder rates.

Execution is, of course, an irrevocable penalty. No matter how fair a justice system is, it is liable to make mistakes. For example, a Columbia Law School study found that Texas wrongfully convicted and later executed Carlos DeLuna. Thus a man was killed by the state for no reason. There are many such cases and under th threat of execution, any actual murderer is highly unlikely to confess.

Murder victims’ families understandably demand that the murderer of their loved one have his/her life cut short too. However, the overlying question about the death penalty is whether a state is in the moral position to be able to kill a citizen. The violent action of a state is a poor example to its citizens and may influence their behavior.  A state does not have the right to merely seek revenge, but has the responsibility to try to avoid such events from happening.

Finally, capital punishment goes against one of the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights – the right to life.  A modern state should consider this charter in all of its actions.

 

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