The budget should not “shelter in place.”

Unfortunately, word went out from the governor’s office that the budget is likely to stand pat, without any new investments or programs. 

That’s an enormous mistake. And indefensible, given that it’s a mistake that California has seen made twice in recent memory.

Indeed, if Gov. Newsom uses this moment to stand pat or retreat, with lots of devastating budget cuts, he’d be following the same failed path of his two predecessors.

Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown responded to the recession and economic setbacks with frugality. Both made big cuts to the budget. Both reduced revenues.  Both pulled back on infrastructure and other needed building projects. 

Brown also limited borrowing, even when it was super-cheap. Schwarzenegger tried borrowing in his first term but also largely eschewed it in his second term.

The result: avoidable setbacks for the state in the shorter term and long term. With spending cuts, Schwarzenegger and Brown added to the economic damage, when they should have been borrowing and spending both to boost the economy and to accomplish objectives, particularly in infrastructure and housing, when those things to cheaper. 

In the long run, the Schwarzeneggger-Brown frugality left California in a much worse position. And that has deepened other crises—particularly in our lack of housing, and in our decaying infrastructure, especially around water and energy.

Unfortunately, California learned the wrong lessons from the Great Recession. Brown, in particular, has been praised for his frugality by a media obsessed with whether the budget is balanced, to the exclusion of other measures of gubernatorial success.

Newsom should not repeat these mistakes. Now is precisely the time to go big, to spend big, to borrow big, and to invest in the state’s future, so that, when the economy comes back, we’re all better off.