By: Dan Oney
After months of grandiose speeches, foolishly rosy promises, and start-and-stop negotiations, the California State Legislature has retreated to its old habits: kicking the can down the road.
A smoke and mirrors budget, described in the Sacramento Bee as being a "smorgasbord of solutions" and described here as a Budget Debasing Propositions 22 and 25, cleared the State Senate and Assembly on Wednesday.
The budget reverts to the bread and butter of our broken legislative system: gimmicks, borrowing, accounting tricks, and potentially illegal actions.
It deprives California's current programs in order to create next year's debt. It betrays California local governments by depriving them of certainty, funding, and autonomy. And it fails California by not providing solutions to pervasive fiscal problems.
The list of injuries in the budget is lengthy.
The plan will "defer" $3.4 billion in funding to K-12 education, colleges, the UC System. First 5 programs will continue to "volunteer" $1 billion in gifts to the state general fund (assuming that move isn't thrown out by pending litigation). Redevelopment Agencies will lose their purported $1.7 billion in funding, which the Legislature has divided among pet projects like pillaging Vikings of old. According to a statement released by the California State Association of Counties, at least $6 billion dollars of the proposed "solutions" are at risk of legal challenge. Should any, or all, of those solutions be challenged in court, next year's deficit will likely grow by as much as $6 billion.
The gimmicks go further though, in assuming that a Federal Government locked in its own budgetary battles will happily fork over $700 million in overdue payments, borrowing $740 million from special funds, and the once-maligned plan of selling state property only to lease it back for the next 35 years.
"This is no budget solution," said Paul McIntosh, the Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties, in an emailed statement received on Wednesday. "It kicks the can down the road."
One of the issues that the budget fails to address is Realignment. AB 109, which was already passed, shifted many programs and responsibilities from the State to local governments, particularly the counties. However, enactment of the bill has held, pending a decision about future funding. Should the Legislature come together to compromise on spending, taxes, and reforms, that funding could have come from a special election, extending temporary taxes by another five years.
This budget does not call for a special election. Instead, it raises or extends revenues and taxes with a simple majority vote of the Legislature. The SacBee reported that Democrats believe that extending these taxes and fees is legal, despite and because of various ballot initiatives voters recently approved.
Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association clearly disagreed. Minutes after the Senate approved the Budget bills, they tweeted, "This cannot be legal. Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to court we go..."
Governor Brown once threatened that should the Legislature fail to send tax increases to the voters, it would result in a war of all against all. Instead, the reality of a withholding an unearned paycheck led Legislators to abandon principle and responsibility. The budget they approved turned out to be nothing more serious than a pillow fight of some against some, to the detriment of all Californians.
Their actions openly debased the intent of Proposition 25 voters. It left California with a structurally flawed budget. And its left Local Governments facing the burden of fewer tools to serve communities, shouldering the weight of increased programs from the state, and no additional funding to deliver services.