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California's budget: The state takes a lesson from its people

June 28, 2011 |  1:27 pm

BigjerryOnce again, California is leading the way. This time, it's with the visionary new state budget.

As The Times reported Tuesday:

Abandoning negotiations with Republican lawmakers, Gov. Jerry Brown struck a deal with Democrats for a budget that assumes billions of dollars in fresh revenue -- but could lead to major service cuts if the money doesn't materialize….

The budget is partly based on an expectation of an extra $4 billion in income. Without that cash, steep cuts to education and other state services would kick in, including a reduction in schools spending that could shorten the instructional year by seven days in some districts.

So what's so visionary about that?

Simple: People are always saying that government should budget just like normal folks do at home. Which, it seems to me, is exactly what Gov. Jerry Brown and the Democrats are doing.

First, there's the "a budget that assumes billions of dollars in fresh revenue" line. 

Personally, I have been buying state lottery tickets for years for that exact reason. Much like the state, I've yet to reap this particular windfall. But judging by the lines at the Lotto machine, I'm not the only one pursuing this method of budgeting.

Then there's this:

"In case we are overoptimistic, we have severe trigger cuts," said Brown, who has pledged not to sign a budget that pushes California's debt further into the future. "Those are real."

Again, exactly what most Californians do.  One month it's "Hey, how about we spend a week in  Mammoth for Christmas"?  Then, when the "overoptimistic" revenue projections (see Lotto, above) fail to materialize, those "severe cuts" kick in, sometimes including no Starbucks for weeks.

And, like so many average Californians, the state is finally coming to grips with a lifetime of less-than-savvy budget choices:

Brown acknowledged that the package would not restore California's long-term financial health -- one of his stated goals. "We still have our wall of debt hanging out there, and we still have work to do," he said.

Which is more or less what someone who, despite a six-figure income, is about to lose his house told me recently.

As Californians, we've borrowed, and spent, and failed to save for a rainy day, and it's come back to haunt many of us.  And our state government has done the same thing. 

But now, we've learned our lesson, and so have our lawmakers.

Of course, there will be some who'll say that the Legislature stitched together this budget just so they can resume getting their paycheck.

And you've never done anything just so you could keep your job?

Still, there is this:

California began the year with more than a $25-billion deficit, which had fallen to about $10 billion by May, due primarily to spending cuts and an improving economy. Finance officials said the new budget deal would wipe away the remaining shortfall, but only temporarily -- a new $5-billion deficit will probably appear in fiscal 2012-13.

Oh well, there are always those "billions of dollars in fresh revenue" sitting out there somewhere.


State budget deal at a glance

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes 'unbalanced' state budget

 California Democrats pass budget with taxes, cuts and tricks

--Paul Whitefield

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democrats in the Legislature reached agreement on a budget deal this week. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images  

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