What on earth are you talking about, Governor Brown?

In your ad for Jose Solorio, who is running for a state senate seat crucial to hopes of a Democratic supermajority, you say that Solorio “was one of my closest allies in stopping the out-of-control spending” (italics mine).

What out-of-control spending is that?

The claim is bizarre. California is distinguished by all the special controls – initiatives, formulas, constitutional provisions – on spending and budgets. We have by any measure too many controls on spending. And as a matter of numbers, we’re still in a period of austerity. Indeed, Gov. Brown has increased spending from that of his predecessor (the biggest recent declines in spending came in Gov. Schwarzenegger’s last two years in office, when the recession hit) – but he remains cheap, which he sees as a virtue (even though it’s a vice).

I wondered if Gov. Brown was taking the long view, given his long career, so I looked at historical data. Spending has been relatively stable and low for a very long time – since Brown’s first governorship. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which has graphs of historical spending levels.

As a share of personal income—one broad measure of the size of the California economy—state spending has been relatively flat since the late 1970s. Spending on health and human services and corrections programs has generally increased over the period, while spending on higher education and transportation programs has generally decreased. Since 1950-51, the personal income tax has replaced the sales and use tax as the predominant source of General Fund revenue.

What’s going on here? Why does Brown say this? It’s the shadow-on-the-walls problem of California politics. The political narrative – of supposed big spending politicians in Sacramento – is so familiar to voters that media and politicians like Brown keep repeating it, even though it’s demonstrably untrue.

The trouble with repeating such nonsense is that it makes it harder to reverse the disinvestment, particularly in infrastructure and education that we’ve seen over the decades. In rewriting history, the governor is doing himself no favors.