Agreeing on State Budget Deficit–Harder Than It Looks

According to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, California's budget deficit now stands at $15.6 billion.

According to the Legislative Accounting Office, California's budget deficit now stands "north of $17 billion."

According to state Controller John Chiang, California's budget deficit now stands at $19.2 billion.

So, which of these assessments is correct? Therein lies insight into the nuances of understanding the state budget. The disagreement also provides fodder for those who say even the state's leaders can't agree on the extent of the budget deficit. Not wonder there's a credibility gap. 

In these times of high technology, Why does this problem even exist?

There's no deceit or gamesmanship, rather determinations of the mess from three different perches in the budget process.

Jerry Brown looks at the budget as a moving target that has all kinds of assumptions. "if" the economy picks up, and "if" the state prevails in court cases challenging earlier legislation, and "if" the federal government makes certain concessions to the state, then the deficit should be about $15.6 billion.

The Legislative Analyst's Office looks at revenue and expenditure trends. All along, the LAO has cautioned that money has not been rolling in per the governor's expectations. Therefore, the deficit must be higher.

As for the Controller's outlook, his is probably the most accurate, if discouraging.  Chiang is simply a numbers man here. Each month the state is taking in "X" and spending "Y." As a result, the deficit now stands at $19.2 billion. Chiang's reports remind us of the old Dragnet series years ago, where Sergeant Joe Friday asks the witness for "just the facts."

Meanwhile, the voters are struggling to understand just how bad things are. In fact, the state's leading money men would serve people well if they put their heads together and came up with one figure for the public to digest. Absent that, all we know is that the state is in a deep hole that seems to get deeper by the day.

Still the question remains, just how big of a shovel do we need?

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.

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