Brown’s gimmick to balance California’s budget falls short

Jerry Brown sought his second stint as governor last year by promising to balance California’s deficit-riddled budget without gimmicks.

“Our state is in a real mess, and I’m not going to give you any phony plans or snappy slogans that don’t go anywhere,” Brown said in one ad. “We have to make some tough decisions.”

After winning, Brown conducted some showy public conferences and then proposed a budget that split the deficit between spending cuts and taxes requiring voter approval.

“For 10 years,” Brown said, “we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

However, while voters had eliminated the two-thirds vote on budgets, it’s still required for taxes, and Brown couldn’t muster enough Republican support.

Another provision cuts off legislators’ salaries if they don’t pass a budget by June 15, so the majority Democrats ginned up a gimmick-ridden package to meet that deadline, only to see Brown quickly veto it, which stopped their paychecks.

“It continues big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars in new debt,” Brown said.

But with lawmakers screaming, they and Brown quickly shifted gears. They cobbled together a budget that made spending cuts on paper but also relied on an assumption of an extra $4 billion in revenue.

It was just a gimmicky guess based on a short-term revenue surge — so shaky that the bankers from whom the state needed billions of dollars in short-term loans wanted “triggers” for automatic spending cuts should revenue fall short.

“We have a very good plan going forward for the budget,” Brown said. But it was very good only for lawmakers who would be paid again.

Real revenue soon began to fall short and by the end of October was well over $1 billion under the forecast, while outgo is higher because many of the “spending cuts” were just as illusional — or delusional.

Finally, the Legislature’s budget analyst, Mac Taylor, blew the whistle on this charade, declaring that virtually none of the extra money is likely to appear and the spending cut triggers should be pulled.

Brown budget chief Ana Matosantos says some triggered cuts will occur, without being specific. But Democrats are now denouncing the automatic cuts they voted to impose and demanding new taxes while handing out big raises to
Senate aides, by the way.

And Brown’s reaction? “California’s budget gap is the result of a decade of poor fiscal choices and a global recession. This year, we cut the problem in half. Next year, we’ll continue to make the tough choices necessary until the problem is solved.”

Gee, that sounds familiar, like one of his 2010 campaign promises.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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