Wednesday, November 18, 2009
California's Budget: Is anyone doing anything right?
This week's news presents two sides of California's ongoing budget crisis. Teachers, staff and student in the California University System started a major demonstration or strike underscoring there opposition to having jobs cut and student fees increased by 32%. At the same time, most CA newspapers are reporting that the budget deficit continues to grow and there seems no end in site.
The Schwarzenegger administration seems unwilling or incapable of coming up with with either accurate projections of future income, they are already off by $1 Billion in the current cycle. At the same time, they are so locked in to a single ideological solution to the problem that they seem to become gleeful about every piece of bad news as it gives them one more excuse to rail against their prolifigate progressive opponents.
While the State Legislature remains deadlocked in these ideological conflict, the education of our youth is being flushed down the toilet or, at a minimum, rationed to only those rich enough to pay for it privately. The differences between the public UC Berkeley and the private Stanford University may be limited to the sports arena rather than their ability to broadly educate the citizens of this once-great state. I take that back. Stanford has a much better scholarship plan for those who can not afford its tuition and fees.
When the Democratic led legislature does seek to find more funding, they always end up raiding the the funds allocated to our Cities and Counties or to maintaining the infrastructure that ties Californians together. We see that now with every community having to reduce staffing for public safety services, fire and police, or local school board who have an increasingly difficult time managing their own budgets in the face of legislative raiding of their accounts.
Tied between a Republican Party that can only say "No" (to new taxation) and a Democratic Party that can't say "No" (to more spending) the public continues to suffer. Both parties have broken faith with the citizens of this state. They work in a partisan manner that guarantees the votes of their core constituencies and compromise becomes a merely a three card monte came of legislative legerdemain where the real costs are hidden by bonds and other borrowing, passed on to our children so that we don't have to pay the bills today.
The Schwarzenegger administration says that it will be facing a $14.4. Billion deficit and they have been consistently overoptimistic about State Revenues. Some worst case scenarios peg the deficit at $23 Billion. Those are numbers that can not be ignored.
The future offers California no respite from ongoing budget crises. The Legislative power structure would have us continue to borrow money to provide political fixes for our water needs, drowning Californians in more debt while drowning the Delta's economy with the results. The unwillingness of both state and federal legislatures to deal decisively with climate change only increases the final costs that we push on to our children's backs as we contemplate silly plans like the development of a Treasure Island that will be inundated by rising sea levels while we do nothing to address the same problems with our major source of fresh water, the Delta.
We should demand that the legislative leaders, dubbed the "Big Five" for the size of their egos, conduct their business in the open rather than behind closed doors as have become the common practice. Both parties seem to be absolutely paranoid about the public learning what they are willing to trade off for the sake of partisanship.
Budget assumption should be predicated on the achievement of a sustainable economy, one in which the cyclical nature of the economy does not destroy people lives in order to achieve an illusory balance. We will only hurt ourselves when budget depends the funds constitutionally guaranteed to our education system, or those of our cities and counties treating them as just another revenue stream for meeting the state payroll.
The assumption that growth will be being able to cover current account shortfalls is a dream becoming a nightmare. Too many events, from peak oil to climate change to water problems stand in the way of such economic growth and wishing will not make it happen.
All of this is an opportunity for the voters of California to find other choices... Green candidates who will practice the transparency that other only talk about.