We’ve learned not to get our hopes too high for the unveiling of California’s state budget — and this year’s attempt provides yet another illustration why.
The total state portion of the budget, which includes the general fund, special funds and bond funds, but not federal funds, equals $183.2 billion ($125 billion for the general fund alone), nearly identical to the amount the governor requested last month in his May budget revision proposal. That is up nearly 57 percent in just eight years. The Senate and Assembly voted on the budget Thursday to meet the June 15 constitutional deadline.
While we embrace efforts to add to the rainy-day fund and pay down more of the state’s mounting pension debt, at the end of the day, it is another record-high budget that represents more taxes, more spending and more government involvement in Californians’ lives. No wonder Gov. Jerry Brown called it a “balanced and progressive budget,” and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, claimed that it “speaks to Californians’ progressive values.”
The taxes are not a surprise, of course. There was the high-profile fight in April over the gas tax and vehicle registration fee hikes, which are expected to generate more than $52 billion over 10 years. But that does not make them any more palatable to most Californians. A newly released UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that 58 percent oppose the gas tax increase, compared to just 35 percent who are in favor.
Gov. Brown has taken to a predictable pattern of warning against higher spending and preaching the need to prepare for the inevitable economic downturn to come. Recall how he invoked Aesop’s fable of “The Ants and the Grasshopper” during the release of his May revise budget proposal last year. In the story, the ants spend the summer and fall diligently working to store food for the coming winter, while the grasshopper spends all his time playing and making music, and then starves when the winter comes.
This is a wise lesson, if Brown would only heed it. But then he goes on to sign record budget after record budget. Someone should tell him he’s the grasshopper in this tale, not Aesop. This budget spreads far too much of the ants’ corn to feed too many grasshoppers.