Brown’s Budget Blockbuster

MARCH 22, 2011



Gov. Jerry Brown may have learned in Jesuit school how to put the proverbial sacrificial lamb on the state budget altar for slaying.

Or maybe he learned from all those Hollywood cinema tycoons how to choreograph a blockbuster state budget drama where a supporting actress’s role is to die, thus making those who tried to save her heroes — and those who didn’t, villains.

Cowboy movies made into political morality plays are popular with audiences who believe there are good Democratic people like themselves who wear white hats and bad Republican people unlike themselves who wear black hats. After all, how do you sell a movie plot where the guys in the white hats — the Democrats — got California into the budget mess it faces?

Movie: Gov. Brown 2

In the 2011 movie sequel, “Gov. Brown 2,” the State Legislative Assembly (SLA) demands ransom in a budget shootout.

Brown and his cohorts in the state Legislature are promising deep across-the-board cuts to all state agencies and public schools and universities. The movie climax is the elimination of all sports at community colleges, which is bound to make the audience cry. This is like cities that play budget extortion when faced with a budget crisis by only offering to cut out popular public libraries.

Brown and the majority party legislators refuse to devise and disclose a budget that cuts $25 billion and then let the electorate vote on the continuation of a counterpart $25 billion package of temporary taxes that would be rolled over presumably forever.

Unfortunately, the state found an end-run around the Gann Act years ago that would have limited spending to population and inflation increases and averted the budget crisis the state finds itself in. SB 400 passed in 1999, spearheaded by State Sen. Diane Ortiz. It granted more generous public pensions. But it was predicated on long-term constitutional entitlement commitments without any downturn in the economy. But, hey, such stuff is for boring history books and so is not for high political drama movies.

One thing to learn when you are a movie producer: Don’t put irony into the plot. It’s way too confusing and too adult.

Proposition 25, backed by Democrats, passed in November 2010. It allowed the majority party Democrat legislators to pass a budget without a single Republican vote, provided it does not include any tax increases.

Now in a scene out of the 1941 movie “Double Cross,” it appears that the Democrats will have no choice but to eventually make budget cuts unless they can get their tax package put on the ballot by the Legislature, then passed by the voters,  without any legal challenges being upheld.

Heroine on the Train Tracks

Meanwhile, Jerry Brown and his co-producers in the Legislature tie their heroine — a package of health and welfare programs — on the train track to be run over by the proposed California High Speed Rail Project. The train also is carrying untouchable environmental, green power and stem cell research bond programs for the wealthy. That way, the governor can portray himself as a savior to the underdogs.

Forget that the Legislative Analyst’s Office recommended another round of deregulation of “categorical” jobs programs in the state education budget that would probably absorb any budget cuts.

Forget that California pays about three times as much to incarcerate prisoners as the state of Texas. If California were to outsource prisoners to other states or privatize the prisons, a huge part of the budget deficit would vanish.

Forget that the state Department of Housing has cut nearly half a billion dollars out of its budget without any layoffs for next year by just not issuing any more affordable housing bonds. Why issue any more housing bonds or have redevelopment agencies build any more affordable housing at all when there are 13,433,718 housing units in California and 12,871,191 households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau?

California has about 1.25 million surplus housing units! Shut down all affordable housing programs; they are just government jobs programs. Unaffordable housing was a social fiction created by the Housing Bubble.

Forget the five voter-approved water bonds totaling about $18 billion that went mostly for the acquisition of open space and the developing green belts around wealthy enclaves.

All of the above potential items to cut from the state budget don’t make a good movie script. The good guys have to win for movies to be successful at the ballot box.

Remember comedian George Carlin’s remark when calls for bi-partisan passage of Gov. Brown’s budget package are made:

The word “bipartisan” means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.

March 22, 2011

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