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California budget hurtles down Highway to Hell

by Bob Morris, published

Let’s recap, shall we? Jerry Brown swept into office with bold plans to clean up the Augean Stables that State of California finances have become. He planned to put a number of measures before voters, and if approved, would use them as a mandate to slay the Budget Demon. Surely then the Golden Days would return, as a balanced budget swept through the land and we all went surfing again.

Tragically though, the governor failed to comprehend the cunning and powers of the Wicked Witch of the East (“No new taxes” Republicans) and the Wicked Witch of the West (“No spending cuts” Democrats,) who, while they may be bitter opponents on some issues, weren’t about to let some upstart of a new governor (even if he is a retread) muscle in on their respective turfs. So they did what was only right, just, and best for the people of California. They pole axed the governor and his plans every chance they got and have now retreated to their lairs after ensuring there will be no progress on a budget in the foreseeable future. Their constituencies, power bases, and all-important streams of campaign contribution money have been protected, and perhaps even bolstered. Surely, this is what matters the most.

What is it with California? Why is our state legislative process so dysfunctional, mired in molasses, and unable to make coherent decisions about the budget?  

By contrast, the US Congress just went at each other with AK’s during the recent budget fight. Tempers flared, aspersions were cast upon the legitimacy of the ancestry of those across the aisle, they screamed at each other – but then passed a budget. So why can’t California do the same? Other states have huge battles over budgets. Yet somehow they manage to resolve the issues and then get it done. But not California, which is continually mired in endless and lethargic arguments about finances. There’s no sense of urgency, and even less of a sense of responsibility to constituents.

Gov. Brown’s plan to put budget proposals before the voters never got near being on the ballot because Republican lawmakers refused to vote for it. His plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies and thus grab $1.9 billion might be illegal, says the non-partisan Legislative Counsel Bureau.  Oopsie. Schools might be shut down a month early next year if higher revenues and taxes are not forthcoming, says the governor. This could be a scare tactic but is also probably true.  He and Democratic lawmakers want the DMV to postpone mailing out renewal notices in hopes of somehow extending the higher fees already in effect. But they have no actual plan for how this can be accomplished. Let me repeat that. They are delaying a badly needed source of revenue in hopes they can avoid expiration of rate hikes with no discernible plan of how to do this. What could go wrong with that?

All of this would be comical if it wasn’t so serious. Lawmakers propose pretend solutions which are invariably wrecked on the reefs of reality. They lurch from crisis to crisis, always looking for some new way to grab money from somewhere without ever addressing the core problems.

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