California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye
The new state budget passed at the end of June is barely a month old, and already it seems creaky and old.
On Thursday, the California Supreme Court dealt another blow to the budget by agreeing to hear a challenge by local redevelopment agencies to a manuever that saved $1.7 billion.
The court will hear the challenge in the fall and is likely to rule by early next year.
And if the redevelopment agencies win, the high court could open up yet another hole in a budget that already looks like Swiss cheese. Revenue projections have been running way behind the optimistic scenarios imagined in the budget.
News of the court's decision is at once unsurprising -- and disappointing.
The unsurprising part: California's budget system is so dysfunctional that cutting the budget is fraught legal and constitutional peril.
So it's hardly unexpected that Gov. Brown's policy -- which forced redevelopment agencies to turn over money to schools to assist the state budget, or face elimination -- could lose in court.
The disappointing part: Gov. Brown's redevelopment agency policy was undoubtedly the most aggressive piece of his budget -- in part because it seemed to be the first part of what could be a broader strategy to change the state's system by realigning power and funding authority between state and local governments.
The fact that the boldest part of the budget is in legal jeopardy is a reminder of just how difficult fixing California's system will be.
This court decision also is a reminder that piecemeal reform -- even a thoughtful piece like the redevelopment move -- is nearly impossible.
Other budget pieces also face legal challenges and, in a handful of cases, possible voter referendums.
Top-to-bottom redesign of the constitution -- as scary as it sounds -- is the safer, better way, particulalry when smaller reforms face such uphill battles in the political arena, and in the courts.