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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Seeking Balance on Taxation

September 27, 2003

Re "Scorning Public Life Is Shameful," Opinion, Sept. 21: Kevin Starr has hit the nail squarely on the head. For the last several years, being at the mercy of AM radio while having to drive between my home in San Diego and a business in Washington state, or trying my best to stomach a few hours of Fox News or MSNBC (to "appreciate" what the "other side" is saying), I've been appalled by the degree of the hatred of our government by those who call themselves conservatives.

Their mantra is that the best way to do away with government is to lower taxes at all costs. Like Starr, I have wondered if they really want fewer police and firefighters, fewer highway repairs, libraries, prison guards and teachers. Do they not like public parks, clean roadsides, fresh air and water free of contaminants? Are they so self-centered that they have no concept of a common cause worth paying for?

Ron Johnson

Chula Vista

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Starr wags his finger at us and cries "shame" for the negative attitudes toward the public sector in California, but it is he who should be ashamed for drawing the argument in such black-and-white, either-or terms. It's not a question of the worth of public services but, rather, their cost and scope. Starr ignores the fact that the state budget went up about 40% over the years after the 1998 gubernatorial election, far outstripping both inflation and state population growth. With the current loss of state revenues, it is only rational to go back to spending levels that existed before the halcyon days of the dot-com boom, with adjustments for inflation and population growth. That is what you and I do when our family budgets get tight. We wish for a Cadillac but settle for a Ford. California must do the same.

Edward A. Shaw

Laguna Beach

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Congratulations to Starr for excoriating Californians for their willingness to make war on the public sector rather than face the fact of necessary taxes. Most people I talk to who are in favor of the recall blame it on the waste in Sacramento because they know someone who knows someone who can attest to a laggard at a job or an unnecessary perk for some politico. This is similar to school bond issues: Someone has heard of waste in the district or a teacher who takes shortcuts, so let's just not vote those schools any more money. We'll show them.

What, indeed, will we be willing to throw out now that we are convinced that taxes are too high? Starr gives us a nice list. I think a list such as this should accompany the next mailing of sample ballots so Californians can be reminded of the basic services our state government performs. I swear that our voting population is ignorant of some of these basics (and having taught U.S. government at the secondary level, I know whereof I speak). I cannot believe that voters, knowing the facts about the funding of these fundamental services, would still choose to vote us into the Third World.

Jean Kilmurray

Topanga

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Starr is wrong in his claim that "Californians no longer sufficiently value state government." California is a solidly Democratic state whose public clearly values the role government can play in bettering society. A group of wealthy right-wing extremists have succeeded in gaming the political system to force its ideas of governance on the rest of us. Without California's two-thirds supermajority requirement to pass a budget, people like Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks) would be marginalized bit players. Without its rule that only 12% of the votes cast in the previous election are needed to force a groundless recall, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) would only be able to work his noisome brew of government contempt in Washington. Thanks to the bizarre setup of the recall election, the most likely outcome on Oct. 7 will be a new governor who got into office with fewer votes than Gov. Gray Davis. Until these rules are changed, the extremists will be partying while the rest of us suffer the consequences of their dim view of government and society.

Paul Gulino

Santa Monica

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