Left And Right Ask the Wrong Questions About Brown’s Budget

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Jerry Brown's budget is coming under attack from across the political spectrum for not living up to its billing.

From the left: Education groups, the closest thing to winners in a budget that doesn't have any real winners, are raising questions about Brown's budget really protects their funding from more cuts. The facts of the matter are difficult to ascertain, because finding an answer involves making sense of the state's famously difficult to understand education funding guarantee, known as Prop 98 for the initiative that established it. But Brown has been basically honest here. While the particular numbers can't be known, what's clear is that education -- that is, K-12 education -- takes much less of a hit than other parts of the budget, particularly higher education, health care, and social services.

From the right: Republicans are claiming that the budget is not as "balanced" as Brown has claimed. In this context, "balanced" means roughly equal amounts of spending cuts and tax increases. The budget lists roughly $12 billion of each, and while one could quibble that some spending cuts aren't really cuts (and also argue that much of the tax increase isn't really an increase but a maintenance of the status quo), Brown is also telling the truth here.

Both of these attacks amount to ideological nitpicking -- and thus distract us from the real failings of this budget. Those failings aren't in what's in the budget, which is an honest attempt to wrestle with this year's budget problem in a short-term way. It's what is not in the budget that's the problem. Brown never connects his short-term budget to real reform of California's broken fiscal systems (and the election and initiative systems that contribute to the budget mess).

Last night, I received a call from an important advisor to Brown -- someone for whom I have the deepest respect --  who argued with me on just that point. He made the case that this bigger reform is politically impossible and could distract from the long term. I answered back that this amounts to crackpot realism--that in accepting the current budget system and its realities is to condemn California, and its younger and future generations, to endless cycle of cuts, tax increases -- and decline.

I'll have more on this subject and this conversation in future Prop Zero

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