Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

CALIFORNIA'S BUDGET....Arnold unveiled his proposed California constitutional amendment to limit spending increases yesterday, and as usual the LA Times produces a long block of text that scatters the details around so widely that it's hard to figure out just what it's all about. I know that editors are convinced no one cares about actual details and stuff, but would it kill them to use a few bullet points or include a sidebar chart that spelled everything out?

Anyway, as near as I can tell, here are the details:

  1. Limit spending increases to total increases in state personal income.

  2. Restrict the state's ability to issue bonds to cover deficits.

  3. Give the governor "broad authority" to make budget cuts at any point during the year.

  4. Amend Proposition 98 to eliminate the guarantee that education gets approximately half of all new funding.

Item #2 is pretty funny, of course, since issuing bonds to cover this year's debt is the centerpiece of Arnold's financial plan. Perhaps he doesn't see the irony.

At any rate, assuming you're in favor of constitutional spending limits, this one isn't too bad. Basing it on personal income (or state GDP) is the right way to do it, and I've never been in favor of special set-asides like Prop 98 anyway.

On the other hand, giving the governor unilateral authority to make budget cuts is not a good idea: it's too easily abused and there's really no good reason for it. If midyear cuts are urgent, the legislature ought to have a say in where they occur.

On a more immediate note, since the deadline for putting this on the ballot is December 5, it means that when the legislature returns from Thanksgiving they will have precisely five days to consider the proposal. And the Times also notes that if the spending cap passes it will require 20% cuts in spending next fiscal year. Here's a preview:

In her testimony, [Finance Director Donna] Arduin offered a glimpse of the far more severe reductions the governor is expected to present in his January budget. She talked about health and human services programs that are not restrictive enough in whom they serve, suggested that taxpayers may be too heavily subsidizing public universities, and that local schools have been consistently over-funded, while school districts have not been held accountable for improving student achievement.

Local schools have been consistently overfunded? Then why did his TV ads say this about once every ten minutes during the campaign?

Question: Will you have to cut education?

Schwarzenegger: No. We can fix this mess without hurting the schools. For me, children come first. Always have, always will.

Yet another broken campaign promise, I guess. He sure doesn't wait long, does he?

For more, here is Dan Weintraub on Arnold's first round of budget cut proposals, which are pretty brutal even though they amount to a paltry $2 billion. He's going to need to find 7x that amount for next year.

Expect nuclear war to begin shortly.

Kevin Drum 9:54 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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