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California's "Bleak House"

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    English writer Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870), from the original wet-plate negative by Herbert Watkins. (Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images)

    The supposedly honest and balanced budget passed in June not only is full of holes and phony assumptions.

    It's also spurred a race to the courthouse.

    As it becomes more likely that the so-called "trigger cuts" to the state budget will have to be enacted in December because of lower-than-expected state revenues, interest groups are heading to the courts, challenging the budget.

    More on Trigger Cuts:

    Tax and Spend: The Missing Link

    The Parallel Universe of CA Budget-Making

    Trigger Cuts Focus on Healthcare, Education

    They may get far. The budget process in California has so many legal levers, rules and chains that any judge so inclined could block a cut on a legal basis.

    That, of course, is why the budget process itself is broken.

    While a balanced budget is constitutionally required in the plain language of California's governing document, all the budge rules in the constitution-- and in other parts of the law -- make a balanced budget impossible. The state budget can't do what it's required to do.

    The desire of interest groups to grab every dollar they can in courts is understandable. But it's not admirable -- or particularly smart. The court fight over the budget is a loser's game -- maybe you'll get a little extra money now, but the budget in future years will be bad too. Do you want to keep going back to court? Or would you like to fix things?

    It'd be wiser to save the energy and money being spent on court challenges -- and redirect it to a constitutional rewrite, either via convention or by a special commission.

    But, in the mindset of interest groups and elites that run California, such a big fix is widely considered politically impossible and even dangerous. So instead, they continue the endless, circular fight of budget negotiations, cuts, and lawsuits.

    If only Dickens were still alive. The author of Bleak House, a novel built around a nearly endless legal fight, would be the perfect guy to write this story.

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