Many people speak and say many things are not right in California. Two important ones are, the high income tax and the state budget deficit.
It is surprising such things happen in California. I say that because, at the state level, California, along with Oregon and Arizona, has developed direct democracy further than any other state in the US.
In some ways, at the state level, California’s direct democracy is ahead of the Swiss cantons. As you may know, Switzerland is where direct democracy has been developed further (if we do not include Ancient Greece). For example, Californians can propose new laws, the Swiss can not do that, although they also have many of the tools of direct democracy at all levels of government. But, the main difference between Switzerland and California lies in the facts on the ground; in how direct democracy is put to work
Let us use an indicator of voter power and responsibility. Let us compare the income tax in a city in California, San Francisco, with the income tax of the largest city in the Swiss canton of Zurich.
Just in case you are not familiar with Switzerland; a Swiss canton is more or less comparable to an American state, a Canadian Province, a German Lander, etc. Sizes are very different though; California alone has 5 times the population of all of Switzerland and 27 times the population of the Canton of Zurich.
I believe it will help us understand how direct democracy works if we use income tax in California and in Zurich.
The comparison helps understand why California voters seem more willing to support more taxes and more spending.
In San Francisco, the highest income tax rate is 51.8%. It is distributed like this; 37% is federal tax. 13.3 is state tax and 1.5% is city tax.
In Zurich the situation is very different. In Zurich the tax paid at the canton and city level amounts to 41.3%. Of that 41%, the resident of the city of Zurich, pays more to the city than to the Canton. The highest rate of federal income tax for a resident of Switzerland, in any city is 11.5%.
This means that a resident of San Francisco pays most of his or her income tax to the distant federal government. In Switzerland it is the opposite; they pay most tax to the canton and the city.
The Swiss pay most taxes right where they live, in the US, it is the opposite.
This means that in San Francisco, a voter who, for example, votes for a law making public transportation “free” (paid by taxes), knows that the repercussion of the measure on the taxes he or she pays, at the state and city level, is much lower that the repercussion on the taxes that a voter in Zurich would have to pay.
Before approving more government expenses, the fellows in Zurich and elsewhere in Switzerland, are much more likely to say: “wait a minute!, let us look at the impact on our taxes!”.
It is easy to see how this difference makes it more likely for the voter in San Francisco to vote for measures making government spend more than in Zurich.
In California it is easier than in Zurich to think: “I decide but others pay”, in Zurich is more more difficult. In Zurich voters are more likely to think: “I decide, but I pay”.
In California, half of the income tax is also paid by the wealthiest 1% of the population. This may cause some people, with average or low incomes, to vote for propositions that increase taxes, as they are more likely to feel others will pay.
Could the above help explain why, fiscally, direct democracy works in Switzerland much better than in California?
If this is the case, it means that until the American taxpayer pays several times more income tax to the city and state than to the federal government, it is unlikely Californian voters, and the voters all over the US, will be as fiscally responsible as Swiss voters.
Perhaps the biggest problem in the US is that voters in California, and everywhere else, have no power to control how much the federal government spends. This means American voters everywhere are not likely to feel responsibility for government spending because they can not control the politicians in Congress or in the Executive.
In the US there is no direct democracy at the federal level, and in most states either. American voters have no direct say on how and how much money is spent at the federal level, which is most of the money government spends in the US. American voters can not stop any expense or law approved by the government in Washington.
If the voters do not have the feeling that they control the expenses of the government that most influences their lives, they are not likely to feel fiscally responsible.
If you are in California, or in any other American State, Canadian Province, Spanish Autonomy, Australian or Brazilian State, etc., and you want more fiscal responsibility by government, it will help to have direct democracy at the national, regional and local level. Direct democracy at two levels is not enough.
Direct democracy is like pregnancy; you can not be half pregnant. Likewise, direct democracy does not work if you do not have it at the national level.
Democracy is government by the people, at all levels.
Wherever you are, you always pay, therefore you should always decide”.