Every time I visit Sacramento – and I’ll be there again next week to debate election reform with Dan Schnur at the press club – I feel like I’m visiting a foreign land. The trouble is that, after a few conversations with people around the Capitol, I realize that we don’t speak the same English dialect.

Words simply mean different things there than they do in the rest of the state. This is particularly true when the discussion is about governance and the budget.

So, as a public service for those who must go to Sacramento, here is a decoder ring:

Sacramento term: “budget solutions”
Decoded meaning: any revenue increase, spending, cut or phony accounting gimmick that can be used to make it look like the budget is balanced.

Sacramento term: “problem” (as when legislative Democrats talk about the budget “problem”)
Decoded meaning: a persistent crisis that we have no hope of addressing.

Sacramento term: “pension reform”
Decoded meaning: curbing abuses to pensions while raising compensation, thus blunting any real savings.

Sacramento: “empowering local government”
Decoded: giving local governments responsibility for programs the state can’t afford to keep running, but without the money or the taxing power to give them real ownership of said programs.

Sacramento: “balanced budget”
Decoded: whatever the majority party in the legislature passes by June 30

Sacramento: “on time” (as in budgets)
Decoded: 15 days after the constitutional deadline

Sacramento: “power grab”
Decoded: when the governor of the party we’re not in decides to use the ballot initiative

Sacramento: “politics”
Decoded: that which is practiced privately and denounced publicly

Sacramento: “policymaking”
Decoded: reading polls closely

Sacramento: “engaging the public”
Decoded: television ads

Sacramento: “prudent reserve”
Decoded: an account without any money in it.

Sacramento: “a scandal”
Decoded: when a state department suddenly discovers it had saved $54 million, instead of spending it.