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GOLIS: Democrats get a New Year’s wish

Pete Golis

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat.

For years, Democrats have longed for the authority to pass a state budget with simple majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

Well, congratulations, Democrats. Your time has come.

By the way, the budget deficit over the next 18 months just grew to $28.1 billion.

And you have until June 15 to tell us how you’re going to fix it.

Even for people who keep track of Sacramento’s addiction to debt, the latest news on the state’s financial predicament is grim.

The deficit keeps growing. The state’s total debt has increased from $34 billion to $91 billion in seven years. The annual cost of debt service has increased from 3½ percent to 6½ percent of the general fund. With the lowest credit rating among the 50 states, California pays more than a percent more in interest rates than comparable states. Annual deficits ranging from $19 billion to $22 billion are forecast for the next five years.

And the state still doesn’t know how it will manage unfunded liabilities associated with pensions, unemployment insurance and federal health care reform.

If you’re not depressed about all this, you’re not paying attention.

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor told a Sacramento gathering of state and local officials Wednesday that deficit spending began before the recession, leaving state government without a cushion to dampen the shock of falling revenues.

“We went into the recession in very poor fiscal shape,” he said.

This is what happens when any institution lets spending exceed revenues year in and year out, while covering the difference with debt and one-time revenue gimmicks. Eventually, it all comes crashing down.

Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, who convened last week’s town hall meeting, summarized: “What we’re looking at today is worse than it’s ever been before.”

It’s easy — and appropriate — to blame politicians and partisanship for this unhappy legacy, but voters like you and me are not innocent bystanders. We have passed ballot measures that demand more services and lower taxes, while pretending that we can have it both ways.

Legislative Democrats have said they could put California back on track if they could pass the state budget with simple majorities in the Assembly and Senate.

As they say: Be careful what you wish for.

In November, voters approved Proposition 25. Now the Democratic majorities in each house have the power to produce a balanced budget — if they can.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Thursday that Brown is hinting in private meetings that he may seek a special election in June, asking voters to approve a tax increase to cover a portion of the shortfall.

In the most difficult economic conditions in 70 years, a tax increase would be a hard sell.

But the outcome, yea or nay, would allow the governor and the Legislature to understand the magnitude of spending cuts necessary to shrink the deficit.

In what it called “the case for optimism,” the Economist magazine noted last week that two other changes may expedite the state’s recovery. The combined effect of redistricting reform and open primaries is expected to lead to the election of legislators more willing to seek compromise.

Consider the prospects for new Democratic Assemblyman Michael Allen of Santa Rosa.

Anointed by the coalition of public employees unions and environmentalists that serve as the Democratic base in the North Bay, Allen won last June’s Democratic Primary by 1,636 votes, less than 4 percent of the votes cast.

Then, in a district in which Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two-to-one, he was easily elected in November.

But open primaries change the calculus. Beginning in 2012, the two top vote getters, regardless of party, will run-off in the November election.

This creates the possibility that the November election could involve two Democrats.

What would happen if Allen found himself facing off against a centrist Democrat who might draw votes from moderate Democrats and Republicans? The answer may depend on whether centrist Democrats organize behind a second Democratic candidate.

Two years from now, this will be the storyline that dominates many legislative elections.

What seems clear is that incumbents — Democrat and Republican — will have to pay more attention to voters beyond their base of support. They will also have to explain the painful spending cuts that will continue to erode government services.

“In the course of 2010,” the Economist reported, “(California voters) have passed reforms that could make the system work again. It will, however, take time.”

In the short term, it’s going to be ugly.

Already, there are signs that state lawmakers want to do what they usually do when times are tough: Become born-again champions for local control and dump the costs and responsibilities on to cities and counties.

Some Democratic lawmakers also are complaining about the cruel impacts on schools and the less fortunate.

You may ask them: Where were you when the state was letting spending exceed revenue? Did you really think that there wouldn’t be consequences to living on a credit card?

Beginning now, one party is responsible for making it right.

Happy New Year, legislative Democrats.

And welcome to your year of living dangerously.

12 Responses to “GOLIS: Democrats get a New Year’s wish”

  1. Really Big Fish says:

    @ Josh. So very true but it can be worst. Most of my friends are Democrats and it’s easy to point out why they are hypocrites but they are lost in their ignorance especially towards Bush. I agree he could of done a better job especially on spending and illegal immigrants. My Democrat father used to say all the actors are not in Hollywood. My dear ole ma hated every Democrat policy and complained however she voted for every one of the them especially the Clintons two of the most odious political figures in American history.
    The counties $1.1 billion budget with a projected $50-60 million 2011 deficit can be corrected now but the pols are in the pockets of the unions and special interests groups. The SMART train debacle which hopefully will end the big budget deficit could cause the county into bankruptcy. This could be good as all negoitations would start over.

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  2. Josh Stevens says:

    Never forget,THIS IS California…and we like “make believe”.

    And not all of our fantasies are born in Hollywood.

    I can’t tell you how many people I talk to (90% Democrat),who complain about our budget mess.Yet,when you explain the solution(live within our means,reign in union pensions,improve business climate),what you’re treated to is some incoherent drivel about Bush.It is an inescapable fact of political life-liberals do not care about debt-and make no mistake, tax increases are the only thing democrats in this state are interested in to deal with this.

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  3. Really Big Fish says:

    Dear Pete and PD editorial writers perhaps instead of using the term
    “spending” one could use” financial political entitlement abuse” and, make an attempt because of their extensive knowledge, to actual identify the root causes of California’s demise such as illegal immigration, union pay offs, and blatant administrative and managerial incompetence. After all you are taxpayers and hopefully U.S. citizens with some sort appreciation for your country. Doubtful but I am an optimist.We are governed by an inept group of selfish intelligence-challenged self- preservionists void of understanding the declining state of the human condition in California and the world at large. Even with a $28 billion deficit it’s a correctable situation..if you know what to do and had the gonads to do it…but this is where we fail.

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  4. Michael Sheehan says:


    Now there’s a “party” I can get behind – great idea, though I suggest a view of the Pine Valley Mountains located southwest of the Wasatch range. Some great, new, local courses to play, such as Sand Hollow and Sky Mountain. Even the names sound good. And with Zion only 30 miles away, it’s a piece of heaven minus the looney fringe.

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  5. Ray says:

    Bad News Bear, seriously, you deluded! The article was spot on with the reality of the situation here in California. It seems your upset that Mr. Golis wasn’t playing cheerleader for Dems.s

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  6. Phil Maher says:

    They can’t raise taxes high enough to get out of this one.

    @Lyn- Do you think that if they spend enough years relying on trickery and fraud, someday they may inadvertently stumble onto the truth?


    Yep, you and me, 18 holes, drinks and a late lunch, somewhere with a nice view of the Wasatch Mountains.

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  7. Skippy says:

    California Democrats: giving drunken sailors a bad name for 50 years!
    The Golden State will be the test state for bankruptcy on a hitherto unknown scale.
    No Federal bailout Obamabucks;
    no valid public employee union contracts;
    no kidding.

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  8. Ray Green says:

    Grab the walls, the bottom is about to fall out of this thing.

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  9. joe right says:

    “Democrats get a New Year’s wish”
    Two years from now it will be “wish we had someone to blame” They did get a sweep in November. But it turns the balance sheet into a sink or swim report card. And the Fed has no money to bail CA out this time.
    There will be nobody to point a finger at,
    will there.

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  10. Michael Sheehan says:

    Bad News:

    Revisionist history cannot obscure the truth. 50 years of a left-wing Democratic legislature coupled with some dumb propositions have left the state in a financial mess. The hole will only get bigger because Californians further embraced failure this past election by voting for more of the same old incompetence and irresponsible spending.

    Backed into this corner by their own reckless policies, Brown and Sacramento will ask for higher taxes, and businesses who create jobs will continue to flee the state. Then who will pay for the public salaries, pensions, welfare and schools?

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  11. Lyn Cramer says:

    Indeed, this will very interesting to watch. Democrats have the power to adopt a budget with a simple majority, but they still need a super majority to raise taxes.

    So, the public will expect them to pass a budget in a timely manner, yet how will they deal with the deficit? More Enron-style accounting gimmicks? One hopes not. But with a public unwilling to support severe spending cuts or higher taxes, whoever tackles this Gordian Knot will need to be a genius.

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  12. Bad Newz Bear says:

    Hmmm.Bitter much? Sounds as of Mr Golis really relishes the Democrats failing to help our state out of the mess that years of GOP bad policy have wrought.I know Mr. Golis specializes in Monday Morning Quarterbacking but really,the tone is excessively negative and recriminatory even for him. How is this supposed to help anyone in our community? Why give a speaking platform to someone who just keeps saying the same thing over and over?
    His cheap shot at unions and Michael Allen are also typical. I notice he didn’t mention how Olivares and Bartley and Ours were anointed by the developer and business interests by a slim margin. I guess it is only enviros and labor who anoint candidates and business and police unions actually vote. Once again Mr Golis serves as the posterboy for bad writing, poor critical thinking, lack of balance and in sum, why newspapers are dying…

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