Jerry Brown is being applauded for bringing honesty to the California budget process. True, compared to his predecessor, his blunt talk is refreshing. (He abstains from using the word “fantastic” in every sentence). Also, he hasn’t minced words in describing the scope of the problem. But let’s deconstruct whether he has been entirely honest in his handling of the budget as well as the plan itself.
First, to the extent he was saying, “we had no idea it was this bad,” the reality is, yes he did. Everyone did. For years fiscal conservatives have warned about the impending disaster both in terms of overspending and the extraordinary level of debt being racked up by state, much of it consisting accounting maneuvers for the purpose of kicking the budget can down the road.
Second, during the campaign, he pointedly said that “everything is on the table.” But that’s not quite true either. His budget plan lacks any real reforms. Where is the pension reform? What will be done to blunt the power of the unions? What about more efficient ways to deliver public services? For example, why does California continue to spend twice the national average to incarcerate one prisoner for a year? The real answer to this is that he has refrained from putting anything “on the table” likely to anger the unions – the very interests that financed his campaign. (Sure, the unions will cry crocodile tears over the cuts, but there is nothing here that threatens their power).