Balancing the budget of one of the largest economies in the world isn’t easy. There’s absolutely nothing you can do that won’t outrage a significant part of the electorate. That’s why Governor Brown is smart to protect his friends—teachers and government employee unions—in his latest budget proposal.
Those groups effectually run state government after funding the elections of Brown and the Democratic majority in the Legislature. They’re also the groups the Governor needs to fund his tax hike in November, which is why it is no surprise they are the only groups happy with his proposal.
K-12 education actually gets an increase in spending. SEIU President Yvonne Walker says she looks forward to negotiating the state worker cuts (with the very same elected officials she helped put into office–how nice). And according to public employee labor lawyer Tim Yeung the Governor’s Mini-Me furlough plan “(is) fairly union-friendly.” (via Jon Ortiz, Sacramento Bee).
Who’s not happy with his proposal? Those he doesn’t need for his tax hike campaign. Business owners and job-creators. College students. The poor, sick, and elderly and everyone else who has a lousy lobby in Sacramento.
To be fair, there are no good choices for the Governor. He inherited a huge shortfall and the state is still recovering from the worst economy since the Great Depression. And, after four years of constant budget deficits, the cupboard is pretty much bare on cuts and gimmicks. He doesn’t have the luxury of, say, pushing the June 30 payroll to July 1 and into the next fiscal year.
But he didn’t help himself by deciding early in his term that he was not going to talk to Republicans, eliminating a Legislative tax hike from the table. My old boss, Governor Schwarzenegger, was certainly guilty of signing budgets that papered over the problem, but unlike Brown he wasn’t a partisan working with a Legislature run by his own party. Brown should be able to get a better deal from the Legislature than we did.
Brown’s current plan is a re-run of his plan from last year that didn’t work: Hope high-income earners have really good years. He may believe that is good politics but it is horrible policy, as we saw over the past year, when his rosy projections fell short by nearly $16 billion and the state pulled less than half of the coinciding trigger cuts.
Brown has spent a year and a half doing very little outside of pushing for a tax increase. It is a totally valid solution to our fiscal mess, but absolutely pointless without pension, regulatory, budget, or tax reforms attached to it. Pouring billions more into a broken system won’t solve anything.
Schwarzenegger may have signed flimsy budgets, but at least he always won reforms in the process in an attempt to stabilize our long-term finances and stimulate economic growth.
The Governor may be keeping his friends happy with this plan, and that very well could prove smart in November. But he’s not doing anything to fix our current or long-term economic woes.