California Democrats have eked out a draw in their ongoing fight with Governor Jerry Brown (D) over what to do with the state’s projected $4.7 billion surplus. Governor Brown will propose a budget using the state’s extra revenue to both pay off long-term debt and let loose the cash flow for the state’s failing public school system. The WSJ reports:
According to the document, Mr. Brown will propose spending a total of $154.9 billion, with the biggest chunk of that—$45.7 billion, or roughly 30%—going to public schools. The budget will also propose spending $11 billion to pay off California’s $24.9 billion debt, with the intent of eliminating it by the 2017-18 budget cycle.The budget proposed strengthening a state rainy-day fund by constitutional amendment.“Wisdom and prudence should be the order of the day,” Mr. Brown wrote.
The Democratic lawmakers who have been fighting to spend the state’s tax windfall on social services old and new seem to have gotten most of what they want from Governor Brown, who has been trying to press for some semblance of “fiscal restraint.” This budget proposal looks better than what many in the Governor’s party might concoct without him, but it still looks like the sign of a California in decline than one back on track. The state with one of the worst performing public schools systems in the country is choosing to load a new chunk of cash onto the failed model without doing much to improve the system’s dismal record of student achievement. This is more or less like cutting new and fatter checks to the state’s failed prison system without addressing the legal and institutional problems that contribute to such an unsustainably large inmate population.It’s also worth remembering that the projected surplus is worth only about one-tenth the cost of California’s current unfunded pension liability, or roughly equal to the cost of keeping Calpers solvent for one year. Last summer’s assessment from Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo) still looks right: “It’s the mullet budget. It’s conservative up front, but it’s liberal in the back.”