Like that old hospital adage that there is always someone else sicker than you, Floridians coming to terms with the state's patchwork effort to make up a $6 billion budget deficit can look west to see things could be far worse. We could be California, the General Motors of state government.
In a special election Tuesday with low turnout, voters roundly rejected a host of ballot measures aimed at reducing a breathtaking $21.3 billion budget shortfall. That is more than twice what Florida will spend on public schools next year.
By overwhelming margins, Californians loudly said no to spending caps and raising taxes, no to increased school funding, no borrowing from the state lottery, no to diverting child development funds and no to reallocating mental health funds. Only a proposal denying pay increases to state legislators when the state is running a deficit won approval from voters.
The outcome should have been no surprise to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rode to office six years ago promising a renaissance of financial accountability. Now he is stuck with an economic black hole and a 33 percent job approval rating. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a much more likeable fellow, has job approval ratings twice as high.
Of course, the more convoluted and complex ballot measures are drafted, the greater the likelihood a suspect electorate will reject them. Combine that circumspection with a deeply ingrained distrust of government and it is little wonder Tuesday's effort to reduce California's worsening financial crisis was doomed to failure.
Now Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders will have to cut services and government programs — schools, public safety, infrastructure needs, libraries and health care all could see draconian reductions. Florida legislators were able to avoid most of the worst cuts in the state budget they sent to Crist by relying on federal stimulus money, higher cigarette taxes and increases in fees.
So when all looks gloomy in the Sunshine State, take heart. It could be worse. The late Indiana newspaperman John Soule, who once sagely advised a young man to go west, might now well counsel: "And when you get there, you might think about turning around."