The Fish Wrapper‘s “budget balancer” toy is admittedly simplistic, but by accepting that I had to both raise some income taxes and cut a bunch of stuff, I got from a $24,000,000,000 deficit to a $789,000,000 surplus for the state budget. It wasn’t exactly easy, but it wasn’t mind-bendingly difficult, either. I played with the toy for about ten minutes and got a result I could live with, and that’s what I linked.
My approach was “no sacred cows.” That had to apply on both sides of the revenue-outlay equation.
Income and sales taxes got hiked, and sales taxes got broadened.
Yes, I cut the education and prison budgets. I cut the state’s school year short by one week for all grades from K-12.
But, I kept a bunch of things that don’t cost much but which we’d miss a lot when they were gone, like state parks and the CCC. I avoided cutting the things that would definitely get the state sued, like tinkering with pension plans. I kept intact every penny of funding to the community colleges. And I didn’t have to furlough the state government.
I did cut a lot of things that I think need to be cut anyway, like the bulk of the home health care boondoggle. There is significantly less social welfare in my proposal.
See, conservatives and liberals alike can find things in the proposal which are distasteful to them. I’ve come to sort of enjoy my ability to do that — I’m a uniter, not a divider.
Now, the budget toy doesn’t allow fractional adjustments, and I wouldn’t really ask the state’s taxpayers to bankroll a surplus under these circumstances if I were a politician. So since there were no discrete units to move back, I would have proposed the $789,000,000 surplus be split equally as follows: $175 million to mitigating budget cuts to K-12, $100 million to mitigating CSU/UC cuts, $200 million to defray increases in gas tax hikes, and the rest ($314 million) to buy back long-term state bonds ahead of schedule. No refunds, no rainy-day fund, and no tax cuts, until the state’s bond debt gets back under control, defined as the state’s bond rating rising to at least “C” status.
Now, this budget resolution would please no one. In fact, it sucks, just like we all know the real solution is going to have to. Still, I think a lot of people — significantly more than a majority of Californians — would be able to live with it, at least for a few years. What I’d be hoping for if I were in government is that 1) the economy will come back in eighteen months or so, increasing revenues, and 2) in the intervening time, peoples’ expectations of the level of services they’re getting from the state will diminish so outlays will not increase again down the road.
The lesson I take from this is that what it really takes to govern is being divorced from the control of interest groups and ideologies, and accepting that people are just going to have to not expect too much from the government.