It's the California crisis version of the chicken and the egg debate.
Which do you want to cut more? The health and human services programs that children and family rely upon to survive -- and work for a better future. Or the universities that this state needs them to attend one day.
Yesterday's report from the legislature's non-partisan analyst framed the debate over how best to cut the budget along those lines. The analyst, in examining Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's revised budget proposal, argued that the governor was giving too much money to universities and taking too much away from human services (particularly in his proposal to eliminate the state's main welfare-to-work program and to eliminate coverage for children's health insurance).
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Why must this be the choice? Because voters have locked in constitutional protections for dozens of other major parts of the budget, from education to transportation to local government. Perversely, universities and human services such as children's health insurance don't have such protection, so they are easier to cut.
What to do? Some might argue for giving universities and human services programs similar constitutional protections, but that would make the budget even more of a mess. The real solution is to unwind other constitutional limits that mandate spending and limit tax revenues.
But that is a difficult, long-term political challenge -- requiring a constitutional convention or a major constitutional revision -- for which no elected leader in California seems to have the stomach. Until someone brings the state real reform, we're stuck with a zero-sum contest between colleges and kids.
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