Footing the Bill for the Sins of the Past

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What's driving the budget deficit in California? Old deficits that the state papered over.

That's the news from the state treasurer's office, which announced last week that the share of the California state budget going to service debt has more than doubled, from 3.4 percent eight years ago to nearly 8 percent today. The debt service is projected to rise above 9 percent next year.

What explains this rise? California's dysfunctional system.

The budget has become so hard to balance under the constitution's conflicting rules that we've stopped doing it. Instead, we've used borrowing and other accounting gimmicks to paper over deficits. Who is we? Virtually all of us. Recall that the $15 billion in deficit bonds -- the biggest piece of new debt adding to the servicing costs -- was championed by Gov. Schwarzenegger and leaders of both parties, and approved by voters in 2004.

That borrowing has costs, and those costs are adding up. Debt service is the fastest-growing part of the budget.

Or to put it another way, the dysfunctional budget system is itself starting to eat away at the budget.

Fixing that system isn't only good government. It would save us money too. Until we fix the system, we're stuck paying a bigger and bigger bill for the sins of the past.

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