Can you say…punt?

150 150 Justin Ewers

The budget package legislative Democrats are voting on today may solve one problem that has plagued the state in recent years: It will allow legislators to say they passed a budget on time.

But that’s about all it does.

For months, political observers have been keeping a close eye on budget negotiations in Sacramento, pushing the two parties to find a way to close the state’s nearly $10 billion shortfall with a grand bargain that would include GOP demands for pension reform and spending restrictions with the governor’s plan to realign a range of public safety programs by extending taxes. After making $13 billion in cuts to safety net programs earlier in the year, Gov. Brown has been prodding these talks along, threatening to sign an “all-cuts” budget should negotiations fall apart.

GOP legislators have refused to bend on his proposal to extend taxes, however, while Democrats haven’t been willing to accept Republican demands. Only this week, with no end to negotiations in sight, has the governor seemed to waver on his pledge.

It is not yet clear if Brown will sign the budget legislative Democrats will be voting on today. But if he does, fiscal experts have no doubt that it will only be postponing the state’s budget battle until next year—making it even more complicated.

The proposed budget is being touted by Democrats as a “balanced budget” that is an “economically responsible approach to solving the crisis.” But in reality, it is full of short-term solutions that give a bad name to the phrase “kick the can down the road” in Sacramento—and will do little to solve the state’s chronic structural problems.

The proposal’s shortcomings are already well-documented. Facing a nearly $10 billion shortfall, the budget would raise less than $2 billion in new revenue, and include spending reductions totaling far less than that through cuts in local law enforcement and the UC and CSU systems.

The budget’s biggest numbers cannot be found in either new revenue or spending cuts—but in its deferrals. To achieve “balance,” the budget simply erases many of this year’s fiscal problems by delaying $2.85 billion in payments to schools and communities until the next fiscal year. It also includes more than $500 million in delayed payments to the UC system, and a much-maligned proposal to raise $1.2 billion by selling state buildings and then leasing the space back.

This is not a budget that will solve California’s short-term or long-term problems. It is the same old story. And if the governor supports it, it will be next year’s story as well.

Justin Ewers is policy associate at CA Fwd.


Justin Ewers

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