Budgeting by Trump

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Remember a long, long time ago—all the way back to February—when our state and its leaders were committed to resisting President Trump at all costs.

Three months later, Gov. Gavin Newsom, our resistor-in-chief, is proposing to put Trump in charge of the California budget.

These are strange times, and this strategy may be good politics. Newsom’s May revise budget is structured around a series of trigger cuts. If the federal government passes enough subsidies for state and local governments, those cuts don’t get made. But if Trump and his Republican enablers balk, then the trigger cuts—which includes huge hits to public schools, universities, health and employee pay—go into effect.

The political goal is to make Trump—not California’s governor or legislature—own the worst cuts. And there may be justice in that—since Trump’s decision would trigger the cuts. But the strategy is not exactly an expression of California’s sovereignty as a nation state.

It would be far better if California were seizing this moment to remake its governing and budget systems, so it doesn’t have to depend so much on the federal government. There are great options for pension, retirement, tax, school, and health reform out there—ideas that would bring in more revenues and provide California with better, more stable services. 

But you won’t find many such ideas in this budget. Nor have you seen the Democratic supermajorities in the legislature move to make the constitutional and governance reforms that their power allows them to pursue.

Instead of doing the hard work of making sure we’re not at Trump’s mercy, we’re putting our future in the hands of Trump.

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