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Shades of pink in the land of bleeding red
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“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo in Walt Kelly’s 1970 comic strip of the same name

Protestors drenched the State Capitol in pink hues using spotlights Monday evening.

The palette was off a bit. It should have been deep red.

It isn’t too tough to figure that California’s biggest threat isn’t too much rain, not enough snow, tinder dry forests, killer tule fogs, or even a severe case of the shakes.

What threatens the stability of modern California is none other than you and I.

The supporters of the “Every Woman Counts” program were the budget protestors du jour Monday on the front steps of the capitol. They were politely angry that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget has forced the California Department of Health to suspend all new enrollments for “free” breast cancer screening services until July 2 for those women who can’t afford insurance or medical care. When the program resumes, the intent is to raise the eligibility age for screening services to 50 years and older.

The program – like much about government these days – is suffering withdrawal pains from a stimulant known as taxes. Other fancy names such as revenue enhancement have been invented in an attempt to trick people into believing that the siphoning of personal income to feed government’s insatiable habit isn’t really about raising taxes.

In the case of “Every Woman Counts” the loss of revenue has been tied directly to a drop in cigarette sales. There were warnings that tying health program funding for everything from kid’s health insurance to free cancer detection programs for low-income women would ultimately backfire. Instead of isolating them from the general fund budget, they ultimately were absorbed as a cost of “basic” government.

Backers who sold increasing taxes on cigarette smokers on a statewide ballot measure to help underwrite some free health care programs assured everyone the evil smokers would always buy cigarettes in sufficient qualities to underwrite the program. Voters were assured not a dime would come out of their pockets, just those of the piranha smokers.

Now we find out the state has dipped into the financially stressed general fund for the past two fiscal years to make sure there was enough money to keep the program at 100 percent as tobacco tax revenues had started falling off.

No problem. Another $3 million here and $5 million here won’t matter much with a $34 billion deficit. As for those non-smokers who voted for it in the smugness that it was OK to impose the taxes on smokers for a noble cause since it wouldn’t cost them, Sacramento is once again proving it can sell an illusion better than David Copperfield.

State taxes always have a convenient way of morphing into something else. California sales tax was blessed by the voters at the height of the Great Depression to fund public schools. Now sales tax funds everything but. Taxes have the shelf life of uranium and are about as hard to get rid of.

Part of the problem is the noble causes that government now levels taxes for. Who can argue against providing breast cancer screening to women who can’t afford it? Who can argue against giving kids a head start on formal schooling, trying to reform career criminals, or promoting art?

One of the protestors Monday was emphatic that the legislature must not cut the program. The KCRA TV reporter then asked the impolite question – with the state budget in such a mess what did she propose the state cut so “Every Woman Counts” could have 100 percent of the funding it seeks.

The first response was “women will die” if the funds aren’t there.

The reporter, unfazed, asked the question again.

The lady politely gave a reply that waxed eloquently about the crisis in health care.

Her avoidance of the question spoke volumes of what ails California.

There is no stomach for hard choices. We want it all but want someone else to pay for it. And, by golly, if we don’t get our way we’re euating it to the taxpaying public and their representatives sentencing someone to death, to  a life of illiteracy with dead-end jobs, or to a life of crime.

Thanks to our collective excess and greed – what else do you call leveraging corporate or personal finances so far to get “more” than basic needs to turn a reasonable profit or live a comfortable life – we are finally pulling back the curtain on the Great Wizards of Government.

It is an illusion that government can address all of our needs let alone us being able to pay for it.

The more we demand and expect the more government costs. At the same time we shirk personal responsibility and making the hard choices smug in the knowledge our elected legislators won’t dare deny us as they want to get re-elected so they can die with their  $180 daily per diem in their pocket.