SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 10: California Governor Jerry Brown speaks to reporters as he announces his proposed budget at the California State Capitol on January 10, 2011 in Sacramento, California. Governor Brown announced a balanced state budget that cuts spending by $12.5 billion and includes an eight to ten percent cut in take home pay for state employees and proposes a "vast and historic" restructuring of government operations. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Sugar-free. Fat free. Gimmick free.
Such claims, we know, are rarely true. But they are aspirational.
So was Gov. Jerry Brown's budget. It wasn't free of budget gimmicks (the term used for overly optimistic revenue assumptions and fantastical cuts and temporary revenues that are used to paper over deficits), but it came closer to gimmick free than most.
And what did his commitment to not including gimmicks earn him? A lot of positive press and commentary.
And that was about it.
Because for all the healthy talk that we need to cut back on gimmicks (and on sugar and on fat and on salt), we Californians like our gimmicks just fine.
Yes, those of us on the left would prefer more taxes to budget gimmicks, but the governing system makes raising taxes nearly impossible.
And yes, those of us on the right would prefer more spendincuts to gimmicks, but cutting isn't much easier, given the same system and opinion polls showing that the voters want more spending on everything except prisons.
So when we compromise -- and compromise we must in a budget system that requires all sorts of supermajorities to do just about anything (raise a tax or fee, or lift the education funding guarantee) -- we embrace gimmicks.
Because gimmicks are polite -- which is to say they don't enrage anyone right now, even though they are a way of disguising debt, which makes them exceedingly impolite to future Californians.
The alternatives to gimmicks are nasty: taking more taxes out of somebody, cutting something from somebody.
And so our governor, more Californian than most of us, seems to be bowing to that reality. He had promised not to sign a budget full of gimmicks. But, as the Sacramento Bee details here, he is not saying that now.