California budget train wreck continues unabated

The Kabuki Theater that is the California budget crisis continues. Republicans ask for the moon, then perhaps unknowingly use a classic Saul Alinsky tactic, while Gov. Brown freezes state hiring except for his staff and whomever else he might want to exempt.

On Feb. 15, California Republican legislators demanded Gov. Brown enact his $12 billion in proposed budget cuts before they vote on whether to approve his special election on the budget and taxes scheduled for June 7. Brown needs at least a few Republican votes for the special election to pass (assuming all Democrats vote yes.) Part of what Republicans want includes public pension reductions. The effective deadline for this to happen would be March 7, as the state needs three months to prepare for the election. But it’s simply not possible for the governor to implement sweeping public pension reform in a couple of weeks. Plus, even if he could, it’s a certainty that CalPERS and public unions would sue to block it, tying it up in court for years. The Republicans also want a permanent cap on spending, less regulations, tax reform, and liberals to be banished to the netherworld forever. (No, wait, that last one can’t be right”¦) Clearly, these demands are either a Republican ploy to block the special election from happening or ask for the moon then presumably settle for less.

Last Thursday, Republicans upped the ante saying they won’t vote to put taxes on the ballot even if Brown does magically slash pension benefits and impose a spending cap. Republican Sen. Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga said, “They [Democrats] really don’t need us to govern at all. They just need us if they want to raise taxes.” The senator may not be aware of this, but this is a classic organizing technique described by Saul Alinksy as “Eyes, Ears, and Nose.”

Eyes:”If you have a vast organization, parade it before the enemy, openly show your power.”

Ears:”If your organization is small, do what Gideon did: conceal the members in the dark but raise a clamor that will make the listener believe that your organization numbers many more that it does.”

Nose: “If your organization is too tiny even for noise, stink up the place.”

And that’s just what the Republicans are doing, stinking up the place. It’s generally an effective tactic too.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown instituted a hiring freeze for state employees. However, he exempts top-level appointments for his administration as well as agencies performing “core functions.” He says this will save $363 million a year. However, the state payroll will be $15 billion this year, so that’s a 2.4% cut which isn’t a whole lot more than a rounding error. Given that “core functions” remain tantalizingly undefined, we can certainly expect a multitude of state agencies to claim they do indeed qualify, which should lead to some exciting and savage infighting indeed.

Republicans denounced the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office report on how to solve the budget crisis without new taxes as essentially being scare tactics from Democrats to force the budget special election. So, as you can see, the two parties remain far apart. Both sides engage in Kabuki, with often insincere efforts primarily meant for show, fifteen second sound bites, and a rallying cry for their base.

Folks, I spend a good amount of time out of California. When I mention California’s budget problems to people in other states, a not uncommon reaction is that they roll their eyes, giggle, and say something like, “Well, California really is the poster child for incompetence, isn’t it?” The Golden State has become a laughingstock. It doesn’t have to be this way. But if the state as whole doesn’t change, and fast, then events will force that change.

(Crossposted from CAIVN)


  1. What’s funny is that places like Texas are just as dysfunctional, as is now seen.

    What’s also fun is that places like Indiana managed a balanced, draconian budget only because they got more than $2 billion from the feds. Once that’s gone, supposedly “well-managed” states are going to find themselves in the same problem as California.

    This is not to say that CA doesn’t have plenty of problems, most of which derive from the silly 2/3rd rule, something straight out of John C. Calhoun, an appropriate poster saint for modern Republicans, given the southernification of the party.

    • I’ve been writing extensively about the California budget for yes, other states have huge problems too. But the dysfunction and gridlock in California politics on this is unsurpassed by any state. And both parties are to blame.

      Utah changed their entire public pension structure in 2010. That’s right. They did it in less than one year. California is incapable of doing something like that.

  2. Despite Utah’s internal budget management, our fine Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has proposed a balanced budget amendment that would require a supermajority to raise taxes.

    I am completely in favor of a balanced budget amendment. But the federal budget is too lopsided to be balanced *without* raising taxes. The fed spends 50% more than it takes in! The GOP-proposed $10 billion in cuts are less than 1% of the deficit, not even a rounding error. Balancing the budget through spending cuts would be painful, destructive, and politically impossible.

    If Hatch’s amendment passes, it will give the whole nation a budget train wreck like California’s!

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