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Train wreck continues as California drop-kicks budget to next legislature

by Bob Morris, published

In a truly epic feat of irresponsibility and cynicism, the California legislature, after months of battles, passed a budget that solves none of the underlying problems. The projected deficit for next year is already estimated to be at least $19 billion. They labored mightily and noisily for months and accomplished nothing but evading responsibility and letting the next guy clean up the mess.

It's really quite depressing. The public pension funding shortfall continues virtually unabated. The big unions cheerfully tossed their new hires under the bus and sadly agreed that new employees will need to sacrifice so that current hires can continue on their gravy train. Worse, this cynical, self-serving maneuver does nothing to solve the current pension funding problem.

Our legislators are little better. In a massive bout of self-interest fueled almost certainly by campaign contributions, they caved to corporate interests and refused to implement badly needed reforms. Schwarzenegger wept crocodile tears and then pole axed those least able to fight back, i.e. the poor, sick, and handicapped, with almost $1 billion in line-item vetoes of funding. I'm sure the disadvantaged appreciate being singled out for even more budget cuts.

Instead of trying to be responsible and do the right thing for Californians, the legislature and the governor simply pushed the whole thing to the next session when the budget will be in even worse shape and the legislative chambers filled with newbies. Neither Jerry Brown nor Meg Whitman have produced anything like a coherent plan for the budget, relying instead on vague promises to grow the economy (Whitman) or ask the voters what they think should be done (Brown). Neither of those fuzzy-minded plans has the slightest relevance to actual budget problems. Growing the economy takes years and asking the voters what to do is also time-consuming - and, by the way, weren't legislators elected to carry out the will of the voters and follow the State Constitution? The California Constitution mandates the budget be passed by June 15th and that it be balanced. Apparently, Sacramento now finds it unnecessary to bother itself with such trifles, not when raising mountains of campaign cash can be done by stonewalling on the budget and demonizing the other side.

But wait, there's more. The budget, train wreck that it is, is based on cheerfully perky estimates of projected state revenue and the pie-in-the-sky expectations that the federal government will helicopter drop in several billion dollars more than they've promised. Does any of this seem realistic to you? I didn't think so.

All the easy budget cuts and most of the hard ones have already been made. The next budget fights will begin almost instantly when the new legislative session begins in January. And really, nothing of substance has changed. Yes, these budget problems are serious and intractable, and some legislators have been responsible and tried to genuinely solve the problems. But on balance, the California legislature has done an abysmal job trying to solve these problems. Instead, they've stonewalled, evaded, and caved to their individual special interests.

We need responsible government, not the slow-moving disaster known as the California legislature. The budget disaster gets more perilous each month as the state’s credit rating slides and the interest rates it must pay for loans and bonds increases. This is not a static situation. It doesn’t stay the same. Instead, it will only get worse.

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