Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

MegJerry Memory Loss: The Total Pointlessness of Early Budgets

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Here are the two people who will face off in November. Meg Whitmas will take on Jerry Brown.

    Jerry Brown is 72, so a failure to recall recent events may be understandable. What's Meg Whitman's excuse?

    Whatever the reason, both candidates for governor are criticizing the current governor and legislature for failure to pass a budget -- now more than two months past the deadline. And each candidate claims he or she would fix thing simply by starting work on the budget earlier.

    They seem to be forgetting something: California's elected officials have passed early budgets before. In fact, they once passed a budget more than four months early, but perhaps it's hard for these two remember that because it was so long ago... ALL THE WAY BACK TO FEBRUARY 2009.

    Remember that budget? It was a tough, hard-fought compromise that included temporary tax increases that Republicans detested (so much so that Republican legislative leaders lost their jobs, and one of the GOP lawmakers who voted for it was targeted for a recall) and cuts that people hated. And you remember who else hated this early budget? The people of California, who voted down five of its key components, blowing their own $6 billion hole in the budget in the process.

    So why would Brown and Whitman promise us another early budget? Well, there are three possible answers. The first is they don't remember, which is probably unlikely. The second is that they're terribly ill-informed by their campaign teams. Also unlikely. So the real reason is this: Brown and Whitman see a lot of polling, and they probably think, with some data to support themselves, that Californians either don't know or don't remember these particulars. And since passing a budget early sounds good, they say something they know not to be true because Californians will believe it.

    The hard truth is that while on-time budgets are nice, the real challenge is not the timing of passing a budget but passing a budget that balances. A balanced budget is nearly impossible to achieve in California's one-of-a-kind budget process, which is full of so many spending mandates and restrictions and limitations that elected officials struggle to understand it, much less manage it.

    Which is why it's much easier to promise an on-time budget than a balanced one.