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Jon Fleischman

Budget Dysfunction, Lack of Transparency, and a (yawn) Revision

Yesterday the State Senate and State Assembly both passed, on party-line voters, well over thirty empty bills each — placeholders in advance of an eventual budget deal.  These bills get amended (they would be “gut and amends but there is no there-there to gut) to include an 11th hour budget and trailer bills.  This will be a budget that doesn’t get public scrutiny, and likely gets jammed through the legislature before it’s 120 members all get a chance to thoroughly understand what is in the budget.

The most obvious question: Since the budget only requires a majority vote, and the same political party controls the legislature and the Governor’s office — what is keeping Democrats from using the budget process to — well — do the budgeting?   I don’t agree with it, but could at least understand the idea that when you needed to do some sort of “deal” with Republicans (which, I might add, always resulted in bad budget anyways) — then I could at least understand, but not agree with, back room negotiations.

If one wanted to make an educated guess as to why Democrats still want to craft their budget deals in back rooms — it is because, in large measure, the Democrat legislators who fill so many seats in the Senate and the Assembly are complete tools of Sacramento special interests — especially the state’s massive public employee unions.  So when Governor Brown, Senate President Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Perez are in the back room, “negotiating” a budget — it is lobbyists whom they are trying to please, assuage, and placate.

Republicans have long made it clear that passing these empty bills in advance of a deal is a bad way to do business.  Although I would note that such complaints were never followed up with resolve to reject a budget so crafted, back when Republican votes were needed.

Today Governor Brown will present his May Revision to his proposed budget.  In it the Governor would likely confirm that billions of dollars in unanticipated revenue to the state will largely go to public schools, based on a complex set of formulas set out in Propositions 98 and 111, two measures passed by voters that really implemented ballot box budgeting in terms of funds going to K-14 education.  Otherwise, we will likely be looking at yet-another status quo liberal budget.

The only real effort that I am aware of in semi-recent history in terms of really trying to change the way the state (and its budget) do business was done by California Performance Review Commission (during the reign of Arnold 1.0) who issued a lengthy report recommending over a thousand changes that could be made, with the potential savings in tens of billions dollars.  Of course the Democrats in the legislature pretty much torpedoed the proposal reforms — go figure.

No, Governor Brown’s revised budget will largely retain the status quo and be one that every Republican should feel comfortable opposing.