California Budget Smackdown: Part 2

GOP politicos wrestle against letting voters decide Jerry Brown's tax plan and readers can try a do-it-yourself budget chopper.

In our previous episode, the Republican legislator tag team from Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margaritaville threw a couple of body slams against letting voters decide Jerry Brown's tax plan.

The governor also tangled with the Incredible Shrinking Deficit, which unexpectedly shriveled from $15.5 billion to about $9.6 billion, thanks to rosier tax revenues, hurting Brown's case for temporary tax increases.

But Brown insists a scaled-down version of his tax measure is still needed to restore school cuts and repair state finances for the long haul. 

Republicans aren't buying it. Picking up where our last story left off, state Sen. Mimi Walters and Assemblyman Jeff Miller, who represent RSM and Mission Viejo, offer more rationales for not giving voters final say on Brown's proposal.

Reason No. 3: Cut First, Ask Questions Later

Before asking voters to jack up taxes, state officials should first manage state money better, Republicans say. "Get rid of the fraud and waste, and we wouldn't have to cut the programs that we're having to cut," Walters said. California could also save a bundle by outsourcing state jobs to private companies, she suggested.

In the GOP budget released Thursday, Republicans called for a 10 percent cut in state employee costs, furlough days for court workers and outsourcing inmate medical care and some child-support and state hospital services. Total savings: $1.8 billion.

Patch analysis: Fraud and waste are neverending problems, although experts disagree on how much money is lost. On the high end, a recent report by the California Taxpayers Association, a business-oriented nonprofit, estimated about $1.6 billion a year was squandered over the last decade. One item not mentioned in the report was the $768,000 that legislators who wrecked their state-issued cars charged taxpayers in recent years.

Sen. Walters, for example, a former investment banker reportedly worth millions, billed the state $1,475 after she backed her state car into her personal car in 2007, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Walters also flip-flopped on a $12,000 pay hike given to lawmakers in 2005. After initially turning down the raise, she quietly asked for it once the publicity died down, according to the Bee.

As for outsourcing, scores of financially strapped cities and counties around the nation are experimenting with it to reduce costs. California has outsourced state jobs on a limited basis, as has Texas, with mixed success and considerable controversy. Gov. Brown didn't respond to our interview requests, but he recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that Republicans could have made headway on this issue in negotiations to get his tax plan on the ballot.

Reason No. 4: Pull Up the Drawbridge

Miller: "Democrats are hurting the weak in our society--the sick, the frail, the elderly--to make their case [for higher taxes]. They don't want to deal with illegal immigration ... [which] costs the system $10 billion per year."

Analysis: The amount of money spent on illegal immigrants is a hotly debated topic. State officials estimate the annual figure runs closer to $5 billion. However, most of that goes toward school and health care services, neither of which can be touched under a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and federal law, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Reason No. 5: Fixing the Deficit is Sacramento's Job

Walters: "The voters of California have elected us to take care of the issues in Sacramento."

Miller: "My interpretation of [the 2009 vote against tax increases] is that voters don't want their taxes raised, and they want us as a Legislature to solve the problem.”

Analysis: In theory, it is indeed Sacramento's job to balance the budget. But in reality, under both Republican and Democratic governors, state officials have spent years dodging a day of reckoning. Perhaps that helps explain why just 19 percent of registered voters approve the Legislature's job performance. And that brings us back to our original question: Who should decide Brown's tax plan--politicians or voters?

Do-It-Yourself Budget Chopper

Think you've got the chops to deep-six California's deficit? Try your hand with the interactive budget balancers created by the Sacramento Bee or L.A. Times. But beware the fine print: Not every program you might like to cut can be touched.

-- Debbie Tharp contributed to this article. 


Roy Rivenburg May 17, 2011 at 09:17 PM
How much money were you trying to cut? Based on the latest deficit estimate of $9.6 billion, you might be going overboard (the Bee's budget balancer works from a deficit estimate of $16 billion, I believe, and the Times' works from the older $26-billion estimate).
Dan Avery May 17, 2011 at 09:36 PM
I used the LA Times one. I would assume the "point" of the lesson is the same in both. It's a rather obvious point after all. One can't keep cutting revenue and keep providing services while prices increase for 30+ years and not run into the red. The real waste it seems to me, at least on the National level, is maintaining armed forces that are prepared to fight World War II, which we really don't need. Then there are welfare programs like Health Care for the members of the Senate and House. All of the Senate and virtually all of the House fall into the one percent of the population that controls 40% of the wealth and 25% of the income. Why am I paying their health care? It's a better plan than I can afford on my own because I have multiple sclerosis. And even that argument is silly because we're talking nickels and dimes. Great articles by the way Roy. I enjoyed them.
Shripathi Kamath May 17, 2011 at 10:59 PM
I used the calculator as is, and kept cutting till the budget was balanced, in the manner I described. Yes, I noted that about the SacBee (see my comment to LeAna in addition)
Roy Rivenburg May 17, 2011 at 11:23 PM
Thanks, Dan.
Brian S. July 03, 2011 at 12:50 AM
who wants to cut taxes? just stop raising them and cut the damn spending already. we need to slash the size of our state government by roughly half. next, start trimming all the damn freebies. people such as yourself are either completely blind to the fact that the "leaders" in Sacramento think it's fine to give the keys to the kingdom to a bunch of lowly security, oops, prison guards (among others), and then when that's not enough, they throw a bunch of whipped cream and nuts on top for good measure.


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