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Sacramento Budget Derangement Syndrome is a terrible thing

by Bob Morris, published

I'm beginning to suspect there's something in the water at our state capital that is causing what I call Sacramento Budget Derangement Syndrome (SBDS). This tragic disorder is characterized by a lethal mixture of pigheaded obstinacy and cockeyed optimism, along with a stern resolve to never actually look at the reality of the budget crisis - because that would be so wrong. Instead, those afflicted with SBDS never move from their ideological stances while simultaneously being utterly convinced that something magical will soon happen so that the crisis will be resolved without them actually having to do anything or - gasp - compromise in hopes of reaching a solution.

Both parties too often propose bizarre, convoluted financial measures that are tabled hastily after sane examination shows - now wait for this stunning conclusion - that you can't make money out of nothing. Last week, we were treated to a goofy plan by Gov. Schwarzenegger to borrow $2 billion from CalPERS to balance the budget. 

This would be the very same CalPERS that has a whopping deficit in their financing of public pensions and is expecting a $3.9 billion bailout from the state. Schwarzenegger wanted to borrow back $2 billion of that, promising it will be paid back with savings from his proposals, after he sprinkled pixie dust on Sacramento for good luck too, presumably. There was no word on when the money would be paid back or how CalPERS would fund their current pensions with $2 billion less than they expected. The proposal was killed last Thursday with a Schwarzenegger spokesperson saying with an apparently straight face "It's just not the responsible thing to do."  Well then, why did the governor propose it in the first place?

Several weeks back, the Democrats said, hey, let's borrow against the state soda bottle fund for years into the future, get Wall Street to issue bonds now based on that projected future income, swap some state taxes for local taxes to get around perky regulations - and then the budget will balance and no more cuts will need to be made. When one is unburdened with having to live in the real world, solutions to vexing problems are abundant indeed through the magic of pixie dust.

Here's a reality check. The deficit is $19 billion. It grows by $1 billion each month. Instead of working hard to resolve it after June 30 when it should have passed, our state legislature adjourned for all of July, managed to stumble back to Sacramento for August where they accomplished precisely nothing, then adjourned in on Sept. 1 until December. If this was private enterprise, they'd probably all be fired for incompetence and laziness.  I suspect the upcoming November elections will be quite rough on incumbents and for good cause too.

On September 23, California will beat its record for no budget passed in modern times. No one has a clue when it could pass, and with the legislature adjourned, this could drag on until 2011. The State Controller says $6.4 billion in state bills remain unpaid from July-September. This is already causing huge problems with companies and non-profits that were expecting and relying upon the money.  He also says IOUs will not need to be issued until October, but the billions already withheld in payments are in effect just that. So his statement is just mere evasion as well as a refusal to confront the facts. SBDS has claimed another victim.

Pretending the budget problem isn't there won't make it go away. There is an increasing sense of unreality from Sacramento, as they saunter about, deciding to think about maybe taking a meeting or two in hopes of further pondering the situation. When the Catholic Church elects a new pope, they lock the cardinals in a room and don't let them out until they elect a Pope. Maybe that's what Californians need to do with their irresponsible legislators. Lock them in their chambers until a budget is passed.

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