Brown, Whitman Promise More Debt

A new report from State Treasurer Bill Lockyer details the fastest-rising part of the California budget: debt service. It's now nearly 7 percent of the state budget.

That gives California the second worst debt picture of the 10 largest U.S. states. (Only New York is in a worse position). And Californians can't entirely blame their elected representatives, since they're the ones who have authorized $130 billion in general obligation bonds (a little more than half of which, $68 billion, have been sold).

The picture is almost certain to get worse under the next governor. How can one tell? Because neither Brown nor Whitman has a plan that balances the budget. When politicians won't spell out (or seek a mandate for) the spending cuts and tax increases necessary to balance the budget, they're effectively telling you that they're going to borrow and use accounting gimmicks.

And it's not merely a lack of political courage on Brown or Whitman's part that guarantees more debt. The budget system itself, with its multiple requirements of supermajority votes for budget and tax related decisions, also creates huge incentives for debt. Democrats fight against spending cuts, and Republicans fight against tax increases. In the end, they compromise with gimmicks and borrowing.

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