Dear Voters: Find Another $6 Billion

Comments (3)

MEMO TO: California Voters
FROM: Member, Shrinking Capitol Press Corps
RE: Budget Math

Based on this morning's Field Poll, voters, you're going to need to do a whole lot more work before hanging any 'Mission Accomplished' banners on this year's state budget. Yes, you have a cadre of experienced managers (see: Legislature) to make all of these decisions, but you've also made it clear that you prefer to take a more hands-on approach. So I'm here to help convey your marching orders, Mr. and Ms. Voter.

And here's the problem: today's survey doesn't cut it. In fact, even if your staff takes these suggestions to their most extreme, you're still only agreeing to solutions that -- at very most -- would erase $14 billion of the state $20 billion budget gap.

(By the way, that assumes you agree with your CEO, whose deficit projection actually includes a $1 billion reserve. No reserve? Then you only need $19 billion in solutions. Not very prudent, but hey, that's your call.)

Truth be told, yours truly believes a case could be made that none of these marching orders could actually be carried out. Why? Because two-thirds of the managers (hey, you hired them) aren't in agreement on any of these. Sure, other companies, er, states, allow budget solutions with a simple majority. But that's not us. In fact, you've made it clear that you're not a fan of that option, so for now we're following your lead.

So, here are this morning's Field results of which company services you want to slash... along with the percentage of agreement among you, the shareholders:

1. Prisons (56%)
2. Parks (52%)
3. Environmental regulations (48%)
4. Public transit (48%)
5. Road/Highway Projects (44%)
6. Public assistance for poor families (40%)
7. Child care programs (38%)
8. Water storage and supply facilities (33%)
9. Mental health programs (31%)

That's as far as we'll go, given the rest of the programs on the list -- law enforcement, higher education, health care for the poor and disabled, help for the elderly and disabled, K-12 schools -- all have at least a supermajority opposed to cutting them. And, as we said earlier, supermajority caries the day around here. (Truth be told, mental health programs just missed it... only 65% are opposed to that cut. Sorry, but a rule's a rule.)

The following represent some rough numbers (hey, reporters aren't accountants) related to your choices and what total elimination of these programs would save the company, er, state. Is this reasonable, you may ask? Hey, I just write the memos, folks.

1. Prisons: $8.7 billion
2. Parks: $135 million
3. Environmental Enforcement*: $67.6 million
4./5. Public transit/Road Projects (we're lumping these together): $1.3 billion
6./7. Public assistance for poor families/Child care programs**: $2 billion
8. Water: $133 million
9. Mental Health: $1.5 billion

*You say cut "environmental regulations." Specificity would have helped. Your loyal scribe decided to look at general fund costs for environmental enforcement... which certainly means enforcing some regulations, no? Again, don't blame me for lack of specific directions, boss.

**You guys are killing me. These two demands sound very much like much of what the state's welfare-to-work program, CalWORKs, does every year. So you're getting an amount for total elimination of the program. Might that zing some folks not in your general categories? Perhaps. Again, I need specifics, people!

Actually, enough asterisks. Several of your demands don't exactly match up with what's spent out of the state's general fund (more on that in a sec)... so these are amounts using a little interpretation, but based on actual final 2008-09 spending levels reported by either the state Department of Finance or the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office. Don't call me and complain about my numbers; if anything, I was overly generous in the savings alloted to your desired actions.

Now, about that general fund mess. Some of your desired cuts don't save the state much money in its depleted general fund -- the place where the $20 billion hole exists. Great examples can be found in transportation and water, where money comes from all kinds of sources. In other words, that doesn't help you much on your quest to clean up the spilled red ink.

So, shareholders, these are some tough choices you've made. For instance, the only way you achieve $8.7 billion in savings from prisons is... ummm... to close all the prisons. Should I buy a few more locks for the front doors of the office?

What's that? Don't close all the prisons? Well, then you better start looking for other places to save cash... because let's face it, you still have a $20 billion goal to meet.

Looking forward to delivering further instructions to your managers and your CEO. Just give me a buzz on my mobile; I'll be down at the bank, as they say my last paycheck from you... bounced.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • S.P.

    Try your hand at balancing California’s budget: http://www.sfgate.com/next10/

  • Laura

    brilliant!

  • Desi

    I have worked in the education field for 11 years and have personally seen men and women achieve family self-sufficiency through education and training. California has the nation’s most successful welfare-to-work program and it’s ridiculous to consider eliminating one of the best social programs in recent history. This is NOT the “California Dream”. We cannot lower our standards and become a state that does not protect its disabled, abused, disenfranchised, poor, children or elderly.

    Excellent suggestions to close the budget gap can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/y9m73f2