Stem spending

David Yow is a political strategist with the Matsonian Group in Sacramento

When voters decided last November to approve Proposition 71, the Stem Cell Research Initiative, they didn’t know that they’d have to pay twice for the same product—the $3 billion proposal carries another crushing $3 billion in interest payments.

Most Californians live on a budget but, strangely, during election season sometimes forget the basic reasons why they must do that. They also forget that when politicians promise them nice things and tickle their ears with idealistic phrases, it makes for good salesmanship but not good stewardship.

Money is, after all, limited. That’s an uncomfortable reality for those of us who love to sign up other people, and their money, to help fix things that we want fixed. But if someone were to try to tweak with our own, personal budgets, we’d be more than a little annoyed at them. And then, if they were to justify it, saying we could always find more money, we would respond the way our parents did to us: “Dollars don’t grow on trees.”

But, year after year, rip-offs like Proposition 71 are pushed onto the ballot, and our fiscal common sense flies out the window as we become like children, staring goggle-eyed at the dreamy possibilities. And, too often, like children, we shout “Gimme!” without a second thought.

The odd inconsistency takes place because, while we would never be so fiscally reckless with our own finances, the anonymity of a polling place somehow makes us feel safely disconnected from any potentially damaging consequences.

And, admit it. It’s fun to spend other people’s money!

It shouldn’t be, however. It’s a cop-out, because it lets us off the hook.

In reality, it’s neither heroic nor generous to let good intentions trump sound fiscal management. But, in cases like Proposition 71, we appoint valuable—and limited—taxpayer funds rather than donate out of our own pocket. That’s as selfish as it is lazy, because such tinkering with other people’s budgets only trumps our individual will to act. It’s a stingy substitution that takes the place of our own charity, yet makes us feel like we are being generous.

When will it stop? When we decide to put our own money where our mouth is, not where our polling place is, and when we think with both our heads and our hearts.