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Our View: Balanced budget, not sleight of hand

Posted: July 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: July 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.

The Great Recession that crashed this country’s economy back in 2008 has changed the lives of Americans profoundly.

All Americans, apparently, except elected representatives.

We spend our money differently now — whether on houses or cars or groceries. We understand now that a college degree is no guarantee of a decent-paying job. That job security is an illusion. That we can lose jobs, cars, homes and still survive — even if “surviving,” not “living,” is the right word for it.

We’ve had to downsize family budgets painfully, cutting out restaurant dining, entertainment expenses, the cost of a second car, the family vacation.

For some of us, the not-so-great recession has meant taking on a second or a third job, moving to a more crime-ridden neighborhood, less time with family, worrying about what the kids are doing home alone (or are they even home?), no more money for food this week, but there’s still plenty of week left.

It’s been a bitter lesson for us about the extravagances of our previous lives.

Now we’re waiting for our elected officials to learn the same lesson. But they don’t show signs of “getting it.”

Once again, the California Legislature has passed an abracadabra budget — one based more on sleight of hand and a few puffs of smoke than on reality.

Anticipated tax revenue that hasn’t even been voted on yet ... the assumption that Facebook’s initial IPO will generate $1.9 billion in state revenue ... these are the kinds of solid underpinnings of the Legislature-passed, governor-signed current budget.

Don’t we wish we could write a family budget based on what we think we should earn, rather than the reality of our paychecks? That’s what our Legislature does. And it’s done it year after year after year.

Then there’s the governor’s announcement last week that he could not reach a deal with legislative leaders on pension reform.

Once again, the state has bypassed an opportunity to correct California’s looming financial Armageddon of public employee pension plans.

Generous government pensions for public employees are a relic of the past, recognition of public employees’ then-lower pay compared to their private-sector colleagues — far from the truth of today’s reality — along with recognition that public coffers then were flush — obviously not true these days.

It’s like signing up for a mortgage with a huge balloon payment because you have the money to make that payment — then taking the money to Las Vegas and blowing it. The balloon payment is coming due, legislators. What is your solution?

They have none — unless it’s waving a magic wand. Not even legislators and the governor who share the same party can come to agreement.

One might find encouragement in the fact the state Senate passed a bill late last week from Gov. Jerry Brown’s camp that streamlines some government agencies. Good work, we might say; looks like you’re finally getting it, legislators.

Except that the so-called sweeping reorganization of California state government — “the largest reshuffling of state agencies, boards and commissions in recent state history,” according to The Associated Press — offers no significant cost savings.


It’s as if we shuffled our household expenses around a bit, taking a little money out of the grocery funds to pay a little extra on the car, counted on paying off that car in 2016 instead of 2018, then rewrote the household budget as if there were no car payment between now and 2016.

Not good enough, Legislature. Where’s you pixie dust?

Our fear is that voters who have to deal with the tough current financial reality will become so discouraged with the shenanigans in Sacramento that they disconnect with state government all together, throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away.

We urge our readers not to do so. While municipal government is the most responsive to the individual, state government must be the next most responsive. Without some clearer thinking in Sacramento, this recession could well drag on in California even if the rest of the nation sees recovery.

Take a few minutes this sunny Sunday afternoon to let state government know what you think of their smoke-and-mirrors budget. Call, write or email the governor to express you dissatisfaction. Call, write or email other members of the Legislature to do the same.

The ballot in November provides a chance to send a “yes” or “no” message. While voters can’t check off a box that says “No new taxes until you cut the fat out of government,” we can certainly send a message that says “No new taxes.”

California lawmakers must face the realities the rest of us are enduring. We need a balanced budget, not the diversions of an illusionist.


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