California’s Budget Fiasco

California is one of the most influential
states of the nation, and as of right now, one of the more economically
troubled ones.

Within our state’s budget, there is plenty that
not only can be trimmed down, but deserves to be trimmed down. As many
Californians may agree by now, it’s time to trim the fat; and not just
ceremonially, but really. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared early this
week that
California is in a state of emergency, and the budget must
be amended to reflect, and subsequently, fix that.

California has the eighth largest economy
in the world. This year it is especially important to come up with a reasonable
way to close the deficit, as the state personal income tax, which is one of the
single most lucrative ways the state makes money, is slated to be down at least
$389 million from last year.

According to the official California budget summary, the state is
projected to have at least a $17 – $24.3 billion deficit, which has more
recently been estimated to be closer to $28 billion.

As
the most populous state in the union, and one of the great sources of
innovation in this country, there are ways that leaders both in government and
the private sector can come up with ways to not only decrease the deficit, but
put the state on track to a future surplus. According to the budget summary
, “The
outlook for the
California economy is for little growth
in 2008 followed by slow growth in 2009 and moderate growth in 2010.”

It’s time to tighten the belt and scale down to
what we actually can afford. In a time of fiscal crisis, we cannot afford to
start extravagant new projects, no matter how wonderful they may sound. Once we
are out of the red, we can begin to once more consider expensive but worthwhile
projects. Any responsible taxpayer knows that when prices and expenses increase
and revenue does not, certain areas must be tightened or cut out entirely. In a
state as central to so much business as
California, it’s tough to point to one
agency, and simply say, “You’re out!” However, we need to look at the
bigger picture and determine what works, what doesn’t and what we can actually
afford to keep.

It’s time to realize that in an economic crunch,
we cannot enjoy all of the same luxuries we can afford during rosier economic
times. This is not to say that such cuts should remain permanent, but they must
certainly be considered at the present time, as we consider the feasibility of
what we can and must discard over the fiscal year 2008 – 2009.

California has more than $2 billion in
reserve funds. However, looking at the amount of money that will be spent carte
blanche this coming year, such proposals are simply unacceptable in this time
of need. According to the budget summary, General fund
expenditures are proposed to be cut by more than $1.7 billion, including a $253
million cut in the category titled “Resources
(or a 13.5 percent change from
the prior year’s budget), an $8 million cut in Labor and Workforce Development
(7.6 percent of the agency’s entire budget) and a $1.362 billion cut in
financing for K-12 Education, only a 3.2 percent cut.

According to projected budget estimates for 2008-2009,
Health and Human Services and the K-12 Education fund are the most well-fed
agencies of the state, with
HHS
having a projected $38 billion budget (with a projected $74 million increase
for the coming year, with a total budget composed of funds from the General
Fund, Special Fund and Bonds, with about $29.8 billion from the General Fund)
and K-12 Education receiving more than $45.7 billion (made up of the General
Fund, Special Fund and Bonds, closer to $41 billion from the General Fund
alone), with a projected decrease of more than $1.3 billion. Looking at the
official budget breakdown, it becomes clear that nearly half of the entire
state budget is dedicated to education. Considering there are many schools
that, despite healthy funding, are still failing, should the state continue on
in the same trajectory, expecting change?

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over
and over and expecting a different result. It would be insane to continue to
pour a fantastic amount of state and federal monies into a flawed system, with
no more strict accountability than ever before.

On top of that, this year’s budget proposes an increase of
$1.5 billion (totaling $71 billion), despite the fact that in the same budget
analysis, it is forecast that the state will see “little growth” in
2008 and “slow growth” in 2009. As a trend, funding for the public
school system has increased steadily over the years, and no dramatic resulting
trend in higher testing scores or school passing rates has come as a
correlative effect. This begs the question, are those behind this funding
hypocrisy acting a bit insane, per Mr. Einstein’s definition?

When in a budget crunch, don’t stretch resources
ever thinner, via luxury proposals. In this year’s state budget, $9.9 billion
have been allocated to give the High-Speed Rail Authority, to build a rail
system across the state of
California. Proposition 1A (the Safe, Reliable
High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act) was approved by the voters in November,
and will require billions of dollars from both the state and federal budgets;
billions of dollars which are not lying around. This was approved before many
residents realized the depth of the budget woes. This is one project that can
and should be shelved until the budget is in better shape.

Another suggested increase in the proposed budget summary is
$2 million to be given to the Secretary for Business, Housing and
Transportation, to the California Economic Development Fund, in the name of
implementing the “10-Year San Joaquin Valley Strategic Action
Proposal,” the funding that will “sustain a public-private partnership
to promote economic development, workforce development, education,
transportation, land use and environmental issues.” Knowing the rough
details, this sounds like $2 million that could and should be better used
elsewhere; in addition, some of the important aspects of this proposal are
already covered within other agencies, including education.

Plans such as these, which spill over into other departments,
seem superfluous at a time when the basic needs of the state need to be met,
before millions of dollars are spent investigating “environmental
issues” that the EPA and a myriad of other organizations can already
handle quite competently.