The spending "trigger," passed by the Legislature at Gov.
Brown’s insistence, hedged a hoped-for $4 billion in new revenues spurred by a
recovering economy with up to $2.5 billion in cuts if those revenues didn’t pan
This mid-year correction was a prudent response to balancing a budget on
notional revenues, when Democrats couldn’t bear to make more cuts and
Republicans couldn’t countenance new tax revenues.
With the economy still in the doldrums, and the trigger more likely than
not to be pulled, legislative Democrats are beginning to feel gun shy. They’ve
introduced legislation to minimize community college fee
increases and to pressure Brown to reconsider making the broader cuts should
the new revenues not materialize. A spokesman for Treasurer Bill Lockyer castigated the move, saying, "The triggers were one of the
strongest features of the budget. It’s unfortunate there’s a possibility they
will be weakened."
As of Wednesday, the bill was stalled in a
Short of comprehensive budget reforms as contemplated in a measure on next June’s ballot, these triggers
are helpful restraints on deficit spending.
The authority for mid-year reductions has ebbed and flowed in recent
history. Governor Schwarzenegger insisted on gaining the ability to make
unilateral cuts in state operations during budget crises, as part of the 2009
budget deal, only to see voters reject it as part of the ill-fated Proposition 1A in the special election that year.
Governors had limited ability in the past to cut budgets mid-year, but
the Legislature removed that authority when Governor Deukmejian took office in
1983. The power grab was accomplished using an omnibus trailer bill that
covered numerous subjects and was considered veto-proof because of its
comprehensiveness. The Supreme Court later found that sweeping trailer bills
violated the state Constitution’s "single subject" requirement.
But the best bet for why the current trigger will survive is that Jerry
Brown signed one during his first tour as Governor. During the tumult following
the passage of Proposition 13, the Legislature passed a
comprehensive measure "bailing out" local governments. One
provision, labeled "the Deflator," would automatically cut subventions to
cities, counties and schools if General Fund revenues fell below certain
benchmarks. Budget experts and local officials lived in fear that local
assistance would, um, deflate by operation of law, but in those days revenues
continued to flood into state coffers – even during the recession of the early
1980s. The Deflator was repealed in 1984.
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