Fuzzy Math Back in the State Budget

Jerry Brown's budget is built on shaky assumptions.

When Jerry Brown took office a year ago, he promised real budgets based on real math. Apparently that approach had a limited one year warranty.

The governor is proposing a budget for 2012-2013 that relies on the same questionable math that got Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature in trouble year after year.

It didn't work then and it won't work now.

With the state facing a deficit somewhere between $9 billion and $13 billion (depending on whether you accept Brown's version or the version supplied by the Legislative Analyst's Office), Brown's budget assumes that the voters will pass his $7 billion package of temporary tax increases in November.

Brown and his allies will be quick to add that a recent PPIC poll showed 60 percent of the voters ready to support his plan. Surely, that must be a good sign.

But voter attitudes in the abstract can be considerably different from voter actions in the ballot booth, especially when it comes to taxing ourselves. In fact, there is no guarantee that the public will go along when the time comes to do so.

For his part, Brown is trying to save the public (and probably himself) further pain. Passing a budget with a built in assumption of $7 billion in new revenues means the legislature won't have to make more difficult cuts.

But if the public doesn't go along, $7 billion worth of cuts next November for the remaining six months of the fiscal year will be more painful than anyone could possibly imagine.

The simple fact is that the governor has it backwards. He and the legislature should take one of two steps. 

Either they should increase taxes by the $7 billion now, with the promise of reducing them with public approval 

in November, or they should make the additional $7 billion in cuts at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Judging from the intransigence of legislative Republicans in the past, the first option is dead on arrival. The second option, however, is feasible but unlikely because no one wants the public to suffer undue harm.

That's the problem. The public has a history of doubting doomsday claims because the governor and legislature always find a way to skate around them. Only when the voters really face disaster is there the hope that they will see the light and pass tax increases.

One of these days the governor and legislature will stop the California version of putting the fiscal cart before the horse. When they do, they will have finally climbed the first rung of the elusive leadership ladder.

But judging from Brown's budget proposal, that day does not seem near.

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