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Punishing the people

Under The People's Initiative, the citizens will control the budget total via the ceiling on government income+debt, while the legislators will control the budget priorities. But this will allow legislators so inclined to blackmail the public with threatened spending cuts in law enforcement, education, public libraries, fire department, etc., unless the public agrees to allow them to raise taxes.

      —  Posted 2010-01-17, From Robert Sutherland, Sno-King 912 Commission

Suppose that Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria are walking in downtown San Francisco late one night and a hoodlum grabs Maria’s purse. In fighting back, Maria pushes the hoodlum's face with her hand, but her thumb goes into his mouth. By this time, Arnold has the man in a choke hold with his arm, but the man has retaliated by biting Maria’s thumb, which she can't extricate from the man's mouth. I now invite you to finish the story.

Did you draw the conclusion that Arnold decided to let go of the man's throat so that the man would let go of Maria’s thumb? Or did you conclude that Arnold squeezed all the harder to force the man to let go of Maria’s thumb, whether by intention or by passing out? I opt for the latter. Why? Because Arnold has the strength to dominate the hoodlum rather than having to let the hoodlum dominate the situation.

Now let's apply the analogy.

The party that holds the power of the purse — the ability to take money from the people — ultimately controls the government because it can strangle the government. In the 1600s, the British House of Commons fought with the king over this power and cut off his head to drive the point home that the Commons, not the king, holds the power of the purse. In 1787, the framers of our constitution copied this result into the House of Representatives, since the House of Representatives is the analog of the House of Commons in our constitution. As a result, finance bills must start in the House of Representatives.

The People's Initiative takes this maturation process to its ultimate conclusion: the people themselves should hold the power of the purse because they earn the money and they own the money that is in the purse!

This is, in fact, the only way to stop the unrestrained growth of government, and the reason is twofold: the legislators show lack of restraint because they're spending other people's money, and each legislator wants to bring home as much money as they can to their constituents. By contrast, the people themselves will naturally be reluctant to spend the money that they earned and that they own.

Yes, some legislators will attempt to punish the people by cutting back on essentials, such as fire protection, police protection, libraries, schools, etc., just as the hoodlum was biting Maria’s thumb. But Arnold had ultimate control of the situation because of his strength to choke the man into unconsciousness, and similarly with a citizen-controlled ceiling on government income+debt, the people will have ultimate control of their government. As a result, the more pain that the people will suffer at the hands of punitive-minded legislators, the angrier at those legislators the people will get, so the more likely the people will be to vote them out of office. This is the proper remedy.

In addition, the criticism that some legislators will want to punish the people applies to any attempt to limit government spending, not just The People's Initiative; hence, it applies to all of Tim Eyman's tax-and-spending limitation initiatives. But Tim Eyman's efforts have, in fact, been substantially fruitful, and their effectiveness has been limited not primarily because legislators have sought to punish the people by cutting essentials but because legislators have sought to circumvent the limitations since Eyman's initiatives apply only to statute law. The People's Initiative, by contrast, charges the legislature to approve the initiative as a constitutional amendment, and once the initiative becomes constitutional law, the legislature will be unable to circumvent it for two reasons: first, they will be unable to rescind it without the approval of the people; second, if they seek to circumvent it by other means, the people will be able to retaliate by lowering the ceiling yet further via the initiative process.

The People's Initiative will also be more effective than Tim Eyman's initiatives have been because the ceiling will be the people's ceiling; it will belong to the people. As a result, to support the ceiling will be to side with the people, while to oppose the ceiling will be to oppose the people.