There are two stories in every government budget, first, the smoke and mirrors of budget change proposals and staff analysis, where, through a process of reports and allegedly nonpartisan analytical papers, the press and the people are told why a budget can never get smaller than the year before. The second story is the real numbers, and the beginning of the real numbers is Schedule 6 in the Governor’s Budget. Want to look at it? Great, in today’s world, with unbelievable amounts of information available to everyone with the click of a mouse, all you need is the URL. And…the URL for Schedule 6 is:
Why is this important? Because no one can hide from the real numbers. Like, for instance, in 1960, California had a total population of 15.8 million people, and total general and special fund spending of $2.5 billion; (a)$1.65 billion general fund and (b) $850 million special funds. Why is this important? Because 1960 was right in the middle of huge expenditures of real (as opposed to human) infrastructure. California was building freeways and water conveyance structures (dams and canals) like nobody’s business. Between 1950 and 1974, a 24 year period, California built 90% of its freeways, and all but two of its dams. All of this for $105.78/California citizen.
It took 152 years, from 1850 to 2002 for California’s general and special fund expenditures to reach $100 billion. It took only 16 years for general and special fund spending to grow another $100 billion to $200 billion. When I joined the Legislature in 1992, general and special fund spending was $51 billion. That spending doubled from 1992 to 2002, then doubled again from 2002 to 2018.
Some say “well population and inflation are responsible for that.” But again, the numbers don’t lie. In 1992, the state was spending $1,850 per person. Today, the state is spending $4,750.00 per person–nearly triple the amount.
Are we three times better government? Are our freeways and schools three times better? Are we three times safer? Just what is state government doing for us that justifies this continued escalating levels of expenditures?
Why will the gas tax be repealed this November? Because people may not be able to articulate their unease about this continual bloating of useless services, justified by some “feel-good” sounding government program, but they know they are being cheated by those in government. They don’t know who is doing it, but they know something is wrong, and the only way they know how to react is to just say no to those who they think are doing it to them.
There is an answer: the first thing the state must do is eliminate the process of baseline budgeting. This is done by first eliminating the current “budget change proposal” (BCP) process and force every state agency to begin with a zero base. Baseline budgeting, easily explained, is a process where each state agency starts where they started last year, and then proposes a “change” to last year’s budget (hence the name BCP). It’s easy, and bureaucrats don’t have to work as hard, but it leaves many government programs that have long outlived their usefulness on the books. All someone who wants to get a constant flow of government dollars sent their way is to get into one budget, and from that day, until God folds this universe like a vestment, they get the government dollars. Nothing gets eliminated.
A zero base budget assumes that no program will be authorized for the next budget year, and requires everyone to come before the Legislature and justify their continued existence. What??!!?? You say…I thought that’s what they do now. Ha, Ha, the jokes on you. Through the BCP process, they assume everything they did last year needs to be done this year. Then they try to figure out how to add onto what they spent last year.
Most of what the newspapers and media say, and everything most politicians say, about the budget is smoke and mirrors. Almost every politician has a sacred cow in the budget, and they spend their entire career, and all of their political capital, to preserve and protect it. Almost none of it is that important, and the same services can be delivered at a greatly reduced price, if the Legislators actually did their job, rather than rubber stamp a vastly expanding bureaucracy.