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Archive for Thursday, May 19, 2011

California debates deficit solutions

May 19, 2011

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— Pausing in his struggle to solve, or to get others to solve, today’s iteration of California’s recurring fiscal crisis, Jerry Brown, the recurring governor, recently approved a new contract for the prison guards union. Henceforth, guards can cash out at retirement an unlimited number of unused vacation days. Most California employees can monetize only 80 accrued days. Many guards will receive lump sums exceeding $100,000. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that guards possess time worth $600 million. The union contributed almost $2 million to Brown’s 2010 campaign.

In 1980, according to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 10 percent of the state’s general fund went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and 7.5 percent to higher education. The national average incarceration cost is $29,000 per inmate per year. California’s cost is $49,000, about $7,000 more than a year’s tuition at Dartmouth.

Brown says the union is cooperating with his plan to reduce state costs by transferring prisoners to county jails. But funding this would require extension of a vehicle licensing fee and other taxes due to expire next month. Which brings us to the importance of Bob Dutton.

Leader of the 15 Republicans in the 40-seat state Senate, Dutton is the un-Brown. Where Brown is lean, exotic and epigrammatic, Dutton is ample, Main Street and laconic. And he is an impediment to Brown’s plans to get voters to increase their tax burdens by referendum, or Republicans to enable the Legislature to increase them.

As a candidate, Brown said he would seek voters’ approval for any taxes to close the yawning budget deficit. He wanted a referendum this June on a five-year extension of “temporary” taxes and fees imposed in 2009 and due to expire soon. In an off-year referendum, turnout would be low — and dominated by pro-taxation public employee unions.

Because two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature must vote to put a measure on the ballot, Brown needed two Republican votes in each. As Republicans are doing in Washington about raising the debt ceiling, some Republicans offered support for a referendum conditional on Brown agreeing to various reforms, particularly regarding public employees’ pensions: This year, more than 12,000 state and municipal retirees will receive pensions of at least $100,000. Brown and the Republicans could not agree, so there is no referendum.

In his January inaugural address, Brown, 73, said: “At this stage of my life, I have not come here to embrace delay and denial.” Dutton embraces denying tax increases for a state whose total tax burden is one of the nation’s highest. He says that when Brown “pushed me for a plan” for balancing the budget, he replied: The state expects $90 billion in revenues, up from $82 billion in 2005. “Spend it any way you want — you set the priorities.” But don’t expect more.

“Hug a Republican, make them feel good,” Brown recently told an audience. “In fact, I’m going to go up and down the state to see if I can’t hug Republicans and ... tell them, ‘We love you, but give us a break, let the people vote.’” In March, Brown said:

“This is a matter that’s too big, too irreversible, to leave just to those whom you’ve elected. This is a time when the people themselves can gather together in a special election and make the hard choice.”

Dutton, evidently not the hugging sort, says making such choices is the Legislature’s job. And for the people to “gather together” — note the communitarian patina Brown puts on plebiscitary democracy — in an election about these taxes would be redundant: In two referendums, in 2009 and 2010, voters resoundingly rejected extending the taxes.

On Monday, Brown reported good news that actually is bad news for his agenda, which he has modified hardly at all. An unanticipated $6.6 billion in tax revenues over the next 13 months will reduce the projected $15.4 billion deficit, but will also reduce the force of his dire warnings about a budget balanced only by spending cuts. Yet he still insists on five-year extensions of higher sales and vehicle taxes. His only concession to the revenue windfall is to propose higher income taxes for four rather than five years.

So the revenue surge serves to underscore the state government’s metabolic urge to grow, and the unswerving devotion of Democrats to that project. Dutton’s response is economical: “Ridiculous.”

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

Comments

cato_the_elder 3 years, 7 months ago

"In 1980, according to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 10 percent of the state’s general fund went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and 7.5 percent to higher education."

Two things have caused California's severe financial crisis: (1) Unbridled illegal immigration, and (2) control of the liberal Democrat state legislature by public employee unions.

As far as the national implications of this are concerned, the handwriting's been on the wall for some time. The question is whether the American people will demand that our national government avoid the same fate as California's.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 7 months ago

While I agree that illegal immigration and the power of public unions have contributed to major problems in California, there are other factors that have had major contributions. California's Proposition method of governing has produced some real problems. Propositions are passed mandating spending for some areas and limiting taxation in others. The Legislature's hands are tied when it's budget time. By far the biggest problem is Prop. 13, setting in stone the value of property for taxation purposes.
There are many problems in a state that has more people in it than all of Canada. Their method of governance exacerbates the problems.

cato_the_elder 3 years, 7 months ago

No, Bozo. I have no need for liberal Democrats who wish to spend us into oblivion, as has occurred in California.

Corey Williams 3 years, 7 months ago

As opposed to conservative Republicans who wish to borrow us into oblivion.

weeslicket 3 years, 7 months ago

this is the paragraph that was missed: from the mouth of george will: "In 1980, according to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 10 percent of the state’s general fund went to higher education and 3 percent to prisons; in 2010, almost 11 percent went to prisons and 7.5 percent to higher education. The national average incarceration cost is $29,000 per inmate per year. California’s cost is $49,000, about $7,000 more than a year’s tuition at Dartmouth."

kindly consider a few historical facts: 1. zero tolerance policies (can't blame that one on "liberals". that's pure "law and order" conservatism.) (kindly remember how we now treat kindergarteners who come to school with cap guns, or maybe sparklers.) 2. 3 strikes and you're out (ibid.) 3. public education is nothing more than "throwing money at a problem" (also ibid.) 4. we now "throw more money" at incarcertions at the back end of our policies, rather than at education at the front end of our policies. 5. how is it that we are now better off?

misquoting cato_the_elder: I have no need for law and order conservatives who wish to spend us into oblivion, as has occurred in California.

and now quoting cato_the_elder correctly: The question is whether the American people will demand that our national government avoid the same fate as California's.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 7 months ago

As a long time California resident, I'd like to point our a couple of facts. California's way of governance is somewhat peculiar in that Propositions are a large part of how that state chooses to govern itself. Each year, Propositions are placed on the ballot, usually by means of voter initiatives. If passed, they become part of the state's constitution. Many have passed over the years that mandate spending in some area, limit taxation in others or mandate that the state behave in a certain manner. Because of voter mandates such as 3 strikes, the state is mandated to put certain people in prison. Because of voter mandates such as Prop. 13, taxation is limited. Therefore, when it's budget time, the legislature has little discretion as to where spending cuts will happen and they will happen because of the mandates. Education becomes the logical place to cut simply because it is the largest piece of the pie that is discretionary. So Education is cut, while more are sent to prison.
But the point is this, it's not a left/right thing. It's not a Democrat/Republican thing. It's a voter thing. The voters have mandated the behavior of the state. The voters have brought this mess upon themselves.

weeslicket 3 years, 7 months ago

thank you jayhawk in san francsico. you made my point exactly.

lucky_guy 3 years, 7 months ago

I didn't know that prison guards were paid that well. They also must get a lot of vacation. "Many guards will receive lump sums exceeding $100,000. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that guards possess time worth $600 million." I think the math is a little fuzzy. If Cal pays $40/hr (a guess) that means that these guards have 2500 hours vacation accumulated which is over a year, hmmm. Seems that the Cal prison HR department isn't doing their jobs.

weeslicket 3 years, 7 months ago

prisons seem to cost our communities more would education.

challenging math problem, that.

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