Jerry Brown gets it.
Call him Gov. Moonbeam, vilify him for his tunnel vision, and curse him for the runaway train but when it comes to California’s general fund he’s the only person in a position of real power in Sacramento that is acting like an adult.
California is on target to have a $9 billion general fund budget surplus in the fiscal year starting July 1. The spending jackals are already in a frenzy trying to get their claws on the money for their pet projects that involve a lot of reoccurring expenses for the state. Jackals don’t care about the fact they should do a squirrel act and prepare for the winter of the economic cycle. Instead they want to gnaw the arms and legs they’ve taken from the taxpayers down to the bone to engage in spending gluttony.
Brown has rolled out a proposed $137.6 billion budget that has an $8.8 billion surplus. He proposed spending $2 billion on infrastructure and $339 million to help cities deal with the homeless — both one-time expenditures — and pushing almost everything else into the rainy day fund to take that reserve up to $14 billion.
Keep in mind the budget as proposed includes increases to adjust for inflation including when it comes to entitlement programs such as welfare.
Of course that’s not enough for many in the legislature who want to extend healthcare for undocumented immigrants and to give sizable boosts to welfare checks.
Many think like Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco who essentially believes Brown is being cruel instead of prudent.
“In this time of prosperity, we need to make sure we bring all Californians along for the ride,” Ting told reporters.
Sounds reasonable, right? But when the economy tanks what does the state do? While they might refrain from raising taxes as it is never good for fleas to suck the complete life out of dogs as they’d be killing off the proverbial golden goose, they do manage to find creative ways to raid local government funds so they don’t have to lay off state workers or pare back entitlements.
Brown astutely points out that California is “already overextended.” He is referring to roughly $200 billion in bond debt the state is paying back using general fund revenue. And let’s not forget the ticking hydrogen bomb represented by unfunded state employee pension costs.
The howls of the jackals though make it clear they only care about living in the moment.
The Great Recession isn’t that far in the review mirror not to remind anyone responsible for budgeting and spending state tax dollars that adding reoccurring debt will set the stage for a repeat.
A need is a need. I get that. But isn’t it amazing how the people who pay taxes can’t afford to spend like drunken sailors. If they don’t live within their means they are on their own. And if they fail to save adequately for a rainy day they’re admonished by nanny state leaders for being irresponsible.
One of the requests on the table is for significantly more money for the University of California and California State University systems. If they don’t get more money they threaten to raise tuition.
Here’s a novel idea. Instead of demanding more money by raiding the surplus on top of budget increases for inflation or threatening tuition hikes, maybe the UC and CSU system can look at ways of restructuring and adapting to the times.
The basic college model has been the same for more than a century. During that time they have redefined the concept of administrative bloat driven by politically correct obsessions to create programs to address every perceived transgression possible.
And since the higher ed systems have no need to be innovative given no one is capping student loans whether it is thorough private sector lenders backed by the federal government or outright state and federal grants, universities never have to worry about the conveyor belt of students slowing down.
When it comes to other big purchases we make — and a college education is a purchase — we vote with our feet.
If we aren’t getting a product that performs and embraces the latest innovations at the same time the pricing is kept down we walk away.
Higher ed has succeeded in convincing society they are “the” most critical gateway to success as they are currently structured. Given their success at driving perceptions why shouldn’t colleges assume the role of shakedown artists to underwrite the ivy tower world they have created instead of finding more cost-effective ways to provide an education.
No one is saying gut higher education but let’s stop feeding the beast money by the trainload in bad or good times as a serious and thoughtful reinvention of the system will never happen. Cost pressures in a true marketplace where the purchase of products isn’t blindly subsidized either through bottomless student loans or political extortion of more and more tax dollars does wonders in delivering better products at lower costs.
None of that will happen as long as the state legislature doesn’t look beyond the next election cycle and the rest of us don’t keep demanding more and more from the state general fund.
Undisciplined children live in the moment. Adults worry about how they can keep make sure the future is sustainable.
Jerry Brown is an adult. Imagine what will happen next year if the new governor is a soulmate with the legislative majority when it comes to establishing financial responsibility in Sacramento.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.