California Lawmakers Ignore Deadlines, Reality

The state's tattered budget is late again -- and the surprise is that's no surprise

Don’t look now, but the California state legislature has once again ignored the constitutional deadline for presenting a budget to the governor. 

This violation has become common practice in a state where credibility is on the endangered species list. Not since 1986 has the legislature presented a budget to the governor on time.

But this year is different than most.  For months, the legislature has known about the huge deficit, which now approaches $25 billion two weeks before the start of the fiscal year on July 1.  A little perspective here: That number represents one-fourth of the state’s general fund, which is why the challenge is so critical.  Cutting already battered state programs alone won’t do it.  And for anyone out there who believes that state workers have all the money, here’s a sobering thought: We could fire every single state employee and save a whopping $6 billion.  

As in years past, the leaders have done little to attack the problem head on, choosing instead to nibble around the edges.  The fact is that we have to make substantive changes to make the budget work.  That means combining programs that overlap—long advocated by the governor—eliminating boards and agencies that are little more than way stations for retired legislators, and finding new revenue sources that have not been tapped or have been underutilized, such as taxing oil that comes from the ground.  It’s astounding that of the dozen or so oil-producing states, California is the only one that doesn’t tax oil.  It also would behoove the legislature to suspend the generous $2 billion tax break it handed to corporations last February at the same time that the “leaders” cut state programs by $15 billion.

Whatever the choices, we have no time to waste.  Compromises must be made by leaders of both parties now while there is still a state left to govern.

Larry Gerston, a professor at San Jose State University, is a political analyst for NBC Bay Area who has written several books on politics.

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