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An On-Time Budget (But Not a Pretty One)

July 7, 2011
Last week, the California Legislature submitted a new budget to Gov. Brown and, unlike last time, he signed it, making it the first time in recent memory that the Legislature passed an on-time budget. The main technique (or, you might say, gimmick) the Legislature used to close the deficit and achieve a balanced budget without raising taxes was an increase of revenue projections by $4 bil and a host of “trigger” cuts that would take effect if the projected revenue did not materialize. Capitol Alert posted a helpful outline of these cuts, which are arranged in two tiers, depending on if/how far revenues fall below preojections, and include cuts to K-12 education, higher education, public safety, Medi-Cal and prisons. The most significant possible cut would be to K-12 education: if revenues fall more than $2 bil below projections, schools would be “allowed” (in reality, forced) to shorten the school year by a week.
Ultimately, this is the best the Legislature can do. Republican obstinancy prevented any possible increase in revenue and so Democrats were forced to pass an all-cuts budget. This budget doesn’t represent California values. Californians supported a budget that combined tax increases and spending cuts to balance the budget and oppose cuts to K-12 education (in fact, polls have generally shown that voters oppose cuts to everything except prisons, but that’s another matter). However, a few positives could result from this on-time budget. First, the California Legislature has shown that, when supermajority requirements are removed, it can get its work done. This should increase voter confidence in our government, especially if it is repeated in future years. Second, the timing of the cuts – right in primary season – could influence the political debate next spring. Combined with redistricting and the “Top Two” primary, that timing could help elect a Legislature that was willing to actually effect the will of the people.
Bottom line: it’s a pretty bad budget, but it’s the best that could be done, and it could be a first step towards untangling the mess that our state is in – it’s already improved our credit rating.
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