Friday, June 24, 2011


The first rule of holes: When you find yourself stuck in one, stop digging. It’s an axiom that’s obvious to most folks who aren’t professional politicians.

Governor Brown, however, seems determined to keep working the shovel by pushing for an extension of “temporary” tax hikes to fill the substantial hole that remains in the state’s balance sheet. Accordingly, Brown vetoed the budget passed by his own party last week.

To the governor’s credit, he correctly observed that the proposed budget “continues big deficits for years to come” and “contains legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings.”

Those sleazy practices have been part and parcel of what got California into its longstanding fiscal hole, but so have high taxes, excessive spending, stifling regulations, jaw-dropping public pension plans and failure to tap abundant natural resources. As Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton observed, Californians need a budget with “meaningful pension reform, a spending limit and business-regulation relief for job creation.”

It was amusing to see a supposedly balanced budget passed in Sacramento just at the June 15 deadline. Without such a bill, according to recently passed Proposition 25, legislators would no longer receive pay for their ditch-digging accomplishments.

The governor’s veto, however, put the onus on State Controller John Chiang to decide whether or not the legislators had met their constitutional obligation. After first suggesting that he had no “authority to judge the honesty, legitimacy or viability of a budget,” Chiang eventually concluded that “the numbers” in the vetoed budget “simply did not add up.” Consequently, the man who cuts the checks ruled that representatives would be going without pay until a budget without “miscalculations” is passed.

Meanwhile, unemployment in California stands at 11.7 percent—34.5% higher than the other 49 states. A net loss of 29,000 jobs last month suggests that the slight dip in the not-so-Golden State’s unemployment rate in May was due to folks dropping out of the labor market and wasn’t a sign of recovery.

Academics and lawyers without a clue will doubtless look to schemes like abolishing death penalty trials, cutting down the prison population, or legalizing marijuana as no-pain, no-brain methods for balancing the state’s books. .

New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie takes a more sensible approach. That much-vilified chief executive recently got a budget that changed the state’s pension and benefits system for public workers passed through a Democrat-controlled Senate. If Christie manages to get that same bill through the Assembly, he will have gone a long way toward getting his state out of its fiscal hole.

On the other coast, California’s legislators just keep digging.

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