Budget Madness

Before this budget season, a balanced budget in California was whatever the legislature said was a balanced budget.

Now, a balanced budget is whatever the governor and controller say is a balanced budget.

The California budget is still mostly nonsense. But different people and institutions get to decide what nonsense can pose as real.

For all the talk about the process being transformed this year, this change in authority over a broken process is the only thing that's really changed.

The shift came as a result of Controller John Chiang's decision, under Prop 25, to stop paying legislators after Gov. Brown vetoed the budget they passed on June 15.

Chiang's logic and defense of the decision was questionable. (He bizarrely took issue not with the fictions and accounting gimmicks in the budget but with an actual cut--a deferral of education money that had been done without the two-thirds vote required in matters of educational spending).

In the end, Chiang approved pay to legislators after they made the budget even phonier, by assuming $4 billion in additional revenues would come into the state.

The controller's office made clear that this budget was OK precisely because Gov. Brown approved it.

In effect, the controller ruled that a budget is now balanced when a governor says it is.

That's a significant power shift in Sacramento. But it doesn't change life for the rest of us; we're stuck with a budget process that makes very little sense.

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