Fred Keeley: Calbuzzer holds his nose to vote for budget props


By Calbuzzer Fred Keeley

The May 19th ballot package is the best bad deal you will get.

Despite the claims to the contrary by the governor and leaders of the Legislature, the packet of ballot measures that implement the February Follies budget is, for the most part, lousy public policy.

The single exception is Proposition 1A, which would create an effective tool for reducing the tremendous volatility in the General Fund portion of the state budget. (Yes, it extends tax increases, but it’s still worth supporting.)

As to the other elements, they are further evidence of the need for profound reform of California’s budgeting system — a system that for decades has failed to produce a budget that reflects the needs and aspirations of most Californians.

When the deal was done, California slipped from 44th to last in the nation in per-pupil spending in K-12 public schools. A severely under-funded public mental health system will be even more threadbare and ineffective. The highly-regarded First Five program for young children will be stalled in its tracks. And the California Lottery, a mockery of a public enterprise if ever there was one, will be further disgraced by becoming, effectively, a credit card.

Why, then, should voters support these measures?

First, it’s the best bad deal that the current system can produce. Under the current budget-making architecture, irreconcilable belief systems are given equal value and left unsettled. For example, it has been reported here and elsewhere that many members of the Republican Caucus in the Assembly and state Senate were urging party members to withhold their votes for the budget in order to drive the state into bankruptcy.

Some people may think that’s utterly irresponsible. But for Republican legislators who believe that “government schools” cannot be made better by increasing funding, but, rather by injecting competition, or that the only way to break the stranglehold of the prison guards union is to contract management of the system to a private firm, to them, California’s fiscal crisis was not about coming up with an 18-month solution: it was about the chance for Republicans to see their belief system become reality.

Second, the few folks who will go to the polls in May will see two measures that contradict their previous messages to budget writers in Sacramento. The First Five and Mental Health “sweeps” will seem offensive in the extreme to those who fought to enact them in the first place. Convincing those folks that it will only get worse if they don’t approve all of the measures on the ballot, will be asking skeptical voters to suspend disbelief.

Third, the Legislative Analysts Office says that the budget deal has already fallen apart. A new projected $8 billion deficit is prepared to come into full bloom before the end of this fiscal year. Additionally, the Department of Finance, in moments of private pondering, sees that as a fairly “happy” deficit projection. Combine that reality with the failure of the May 19th ballot measures, and a new $12-15 billion deficit will present itself to the governor and legislature.

More importantly, the tools for fixing that problem in early June will consist of a bit of borrowing and a ton of budget cuts. The Republicans who saw their chance to prevail in the clash of beliefs in February may well be in the driver’s seat again.

So, if you are a voter who believes that we simply cannot expect high quality public education while we are looking up at Mississippi in terms of per-pupil spending, or if you are a voter who believes that decades of programmatic retrenchment in the areas of health, human services, environmental protection, infrastructure, affordable housing or any of the other policy areas where California has fallen from leadership and grace, then you’ll vote “yes” on each and every ballot measure May 19.

It’s the best bad deal you’re going to get.

Fred Keeley is the elected Treasurer of the County of Santa Cruz, a former member of the California Assembly, a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Economy of the 21st Century, and a member of the Leadership Council of California Forward.

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There are 5 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    Truly these are ugly proposals — and that is enough reason to reject them. Yes, they are ugly because of the 2/3 rules — but that only means legislators should have put a special election repealing the 2/3 rules on the ballot (by initiative if necessary), instead of this mess. It certainly doesn’t mean we have to accept them.

    1A raises income taxes of those making the least by 25%, but raises the income taxes of those making the most by less than 3%. This is unconscionable public policy.

  2. avatar Anonymous says:

    Nice to hear from Fred again.

    In the seventh paragraph, there’s supposed to be a link. Could the Calbuzz folks add that?

  3. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    Thanks for heads up – link should work now.

  4. avatar Dana Gabbard says:

    I am astonished the Republicans think in a democracy their minority can use the 2/3 requirement to blackmail their way to making substantial public policy. Their lack of reality from life in an echo chamber of right-wing ideology seems to be beyond anything imaginable. If they keep it up those poll numbers for repealing the 2/3 may rise…

  5. avatar Milo says:

    I think some people struggle with easy puzzles, Dana Gabbard in particular. I think a democrat in CA would find the 2/3 requirement ‘burdensome’ because it keeps them from having to deal with a pesky minority group. It is true, however that the republicans in this state are staunch right-wingers for the most part and refuse to deal with anyone. The sides are indeed polarized.
    But the article says we have failing social services and rank last in per-pupil spending. Yet, in other recent news, we rank in the top three if not number one in highest sales tax, income tax, and the number of ‘user fees’ foisted on our population. Our one saving grace is a more managable property tax and yet that revenue stream is drying up as homes lose value.
    So how do we expect Republican legislators and citizens to trust that increased revenues will trickle down to students or the mentally ill when so much of current revenues seems to disappear into sacramento thin air? The democrats will have to take a few steps to the right. There has to be real compromise. Isn’t that what a democratic republic is supposed to be?

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