State Budget No Thing of Beauty

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Patrick Walton
    "A no-tax pledge needs to mean something," said Jon Fleischman, a party vice-chairman from Southern California who introduced the measure. "If we don't respect the meaning of the pledge, we'll no longer be able to use it to defeat Democrats."

    California's state budget may be balanced, but it's hardly a thing of beauty.
     
    Republicans had no hand in passing it, and even Democrats concede it's a stop gap that doesn't address future deficits.

      Gov. Jerry Brown had hoped that sales and vehicle tax extensions, wich were blocked by the Republicans, could help chip away at what he called the state's "wall of debt." Instead, the $86 billion general fund package passed Tuesday by Capitol Democrats only keeps it from going higher, a minor accomplishment when major reforms are needed.
     
    "We have a serious structural deficit now and into the future unless we cure it," the governor told journalists at a May 16 briefing on his revised budget.
     
    The medicine for that isn't in the final budget.
     
    Lawmakers can only cut spending, hike fees and pray that rosy fiscal projections hold up.
     
    Among the provisions:
     
    Rural homeowners will be charged $150 a year for wildfire coverage.
     
    Vehicle owners will pay an extra $12 in annual registration fees.
     
    And to bankroll the shift of prison inmates to local jails, the counties will get $5 billion in state sales tax proceeds.
     
    Under another budget-related bill, some 400 California redevelopment agencies will lose $1.7 billion to schools and various other districts.
     
    San Diego's Centre City Development Corporation alone will lose about $47 million.
     
    "It has a devastating impact, no question, on our ability to do all of the projects that are in the pipeline for downtown," said CCDC spokesman Derek Danziger, adding that CCDC officials will have to re-prioritize projects to match lower funding levels.
     
    "For the North Embarcadero Visionary Project, the Horton Plaza Park, the other things that have moved through a process and been approved," Danziger said, "our hope is really that those are the types of projects that are safe."
     
    Given the state's new redistricting process and primary election rules, there's speculation that next year's budget cycle will be much less polarized.
     
    "In the next round, maybe Brown can get a budget that actually makes some progress," San Diego political consultant Larry Remer said. "So hopefully at that time, the economy will improve."
     
    Remer offers this cautionary note: "Is it the end game?  Not yet. We've got a long way to play this out. We're still playing against the backdrop of this huge financial drop in the country."
     
    In response to a budget provision that online retailers collect state sales taxes, Amazon has told its California affiliates they have to stop selling on Amazon.
     
    The California Redevelopment Association and League of California Cities are preparing lawsuits against the redevelopment funding shifts.
     
    On Friday, as a result of the stalemate on tax extensions, the state's sales tax rolls back by a penny on the dollar. The going rate will drop to 7.25 percent.