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The Parallel Universe of CA Budget-Making

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    California's budget process is really just an algorithm -- a series of mathematical formulas piled upon mathematical formulas.

    Interest groups that have a formula protecting their programs or favored rules have power. Those who don't have a formula -- they get hammered year after year.

    Gov. Jerry Brown's main contribution to the budget process so far is his own formula. And don't you dare touch it!

    His formula delays budget cuts until just before Christmas in the hopes that $4 billion in revenues will magically materialize. In the event the magic revenues don't appear, Brown's formula kicks in -- triggering automatic cuts in schools and other programs.

    Last week, Brown vetoed an attempt by the legislature to give itself more of a voice in how those cuts are made.

    Brown and his ally, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, had argued that changing the formulas -- referred to in Sacramento and in the new media as "triggers" -- would undermine the confidence of the ratings agencies and investors in California. Lawmakers want to try to soften the blow.

    This controversy, like so many things that involve the California budget, takes place in a parallel universe.

    Ratings agencies still have California's credit at a low ebb.

    Does anyone really think that the manner in which these trigger cuts are triggered will materially affect anyone's confidence in the California budget?

    If the credit rating agencies' opinions matter so much, why has California had so little trouble borrowing?

    What's so wrong with having elected representatives make changes to a budget so that cuts do less damage? That sort of sounds like democracy.

    If anything, Brown's view that the triggers are part of an honest budget is far more unsettling than any changes the legislature might make in the trigger cuts.

    Brown actually wrote in his veto message that "This year - for the first time in a long time - we passed a no-gimmicks, on-time budget."

    No-gimmicks? Really?

    This statement in a veto defending triggers cuts that are in the budget because the deal was closed with a huge gimmick -- that $4 billion in magic revenues.

    Good grief.

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