I have talked about the problems with the recently adopted budget (assuming the Legislature is done with it, a large assumption given their previous cavalier attitude toward the budget deadlines). Just to repeat my previous criticisms:
(1) The budget for the current and predictions for future year budgets are based on unstable revenue;
(2) The spending increases in the current budget fix in spending patterns that are unsustainable in the future;
(3) The Legislature completely failed to comply with the budget deadlines, and in their tardiness, they didn’t fix the real problems in the budget;
(4) In addition to the unsustainable spending patterns, the programs upon which the money is spent are themselves questionable and little value to Californians. The fact is the Legislature doesn’t care about most Californians, they waste the tax dollars they collect, pay off their political donors, endanger public safety with their spending priorities, and they have built in entitlement and spending to such an extent that within the next two to five years, the entire system will collapse, and the Democrats in the Legislature will again demand tax increases from California working people to pay for their out of control spending.
I believe there is an increasingly significant chance that, by November 1, our Arrogant Lazy Authoritarian in Charge (ALAIC) Gavin Newsom will no longer be the Governor of the State of California. If he loses the recall, he will have deserved the loss, but assuming he does, his Republican successor will inherit a significant budget problem, just as Schwarzenegger did in 2003-04. Schwarzenegger totally botched the handling of that budget crisis, and the Democrats in the Legislature were able to shift the responsibility for budget crisis they created to Governor Schwarzenegger. Part of the public relations problems the California Republican Party is now experiencing was caused by Schwarzenegger’s mishandling of that budget problem. The next Governor could suffer the same fate.
So what should the next Republican Governor do? The crisis will be of historical proportions, and the Democrats in the Legislature will be running for the hills pointing at the new Governor as the cause. A program to solve the problem will be an essential pillar in that Governor’s re-election campaign. I don’t believe in defining a problem without a solution, so I respectfully suggest the following.
Implement a zero base budget for the Department of Health Services and Department of Social Services. I would suggest the same for education expenditures, but that would net few savings given the requirements of Proposition 98, but DHS and DSS have many fewer limitations, and what limitations do exist can be implemented through statutory changes. The Democrats will have to justify such things as free health care, welfare and food stamps for illegal aliens in the face of an overwhelming budget crisis. The fiscal advantages of those spending reductions, and political advantages of making the arguments, are hard to overestimate. A zero base budget process will expose those wasteful programs that have been built into the budget over the years. I spent nearly 12 years in the budget committees that filled in the line items that get funded year and year, and many of those line items are little more than pork, fraud and political pay offs. A zero base budget proposal to the Legislature in those areas next January, when the Governor’s budget proposal is due, could begin the process of fixing the budget before the budget collapses by November of 2022.
How would the zero base budget be implemented? It could be done with the current “budget change proposal” process. Today, department heads, through their bureaucracies, propose year over year budget proposals, by line items, through a document that is called a “budget change proposal,” or “BCP” for short. Each line item in the budget has a BCP. The BCP starts by assuming everything in last year’s budget is proper (which they call the base), then proposes the “change” in the base for the budget year (which begins in July 1 of the year in which the Governor’s budget is proposed). Programs, once adopted by the Legislature, rarely, if ever, disappear. They are just carried over year after year, in the BCPs. How do you change that?
By requiring the DHS and DSS to submit BCPs that assume a zero base, that is, that there was no spending on the line items in their budget last year. That would mean every line item would have the spending programs in that line item exposed, what it is being spent on, how much is being spent, whether it is accomplishing what it was supposed to accomplish when adopted, and, if not, policy makers can honestly evaluate whether the line items should be reduced or eliminated.
Simple, right? You bet, but not easy. When the new Governor takes over, the BCP process will be nearly complete. The new Governor will have to act quickly and decisively. If he or she does not, it will be a year before the problem can be fixed. That is why I suggest just two departments to start, and the two departments with the most questionable spending.
It can be done. In fact, it must be done, if the new Governor wishes to have any level of success. Democrats will wail, and there will be much gnashing of teeth, but it will be the only way to avoid California’s descent into budget hell.