I guess they just can’t help themselves. They certainly don’t learn from history.
I am talking, of course, of the Legislative majority. This year’s budget is a disaster in the making. I hope I am wrong, and the disaster never occurs, but certainly the seeds for a future disaster have been planted, and the current Legislative majority is responsible. They are spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors, again.
According to the Legislative Analyst Office (September 22, 2004), last year’s budget (the 2004-05 spending plan) authorized $78.7 billion in general fund spending. That was an increase over the 2003-04 budget of about $600 million, the smallest spending increase in the history of the state, and a great start for Governor Schwarzenegger, especially after his March victory for the deficit reduction bond and balanced budget amendment. It was so good I even voted for it, my first vote in favor of a budget in my legislative career. In one year, Governor Schwarzenegger had reduced a $30 – $50 billion budget problem, and turned it into a $10 billion deficit, a good thing.
This year’s budget process began with a lot of promise. As the economy got stronger, the deficit problem would go away if the Legislature exercised a level of spending restraint. The Governor’s January budget was the model of restraint, with minimal increases in spending, realistic revenue projections, and solid budget priorities. It looked like the state would pull out of its problems all together.
Then it happened.
The Legislature, whose spending sprees in the budgets between 1999 and 2001 cost Gray Davis his job, got a hold of the Governor’s January budget. Then the spending lobby, the thousands of adults who make money off of government, began an advertising blitz to hurt the Governor’s image. Finally, the bureaucracy got their mitts on the increased revenue.
The next thing you know, state government spending is out of control again. In the 1999-2000 budget, state government saw a 14% increase in general fund spending, from $57 billion to $66 billion. That budget was the first of the Davis budget debacles that ultimately resulted in the deficits of the last three years. In my article, “Projects of Regional Concern (PORC)” written in May of 2000, I wrote that this was the beginning of the next budget mess. By May of 2001, it was evident to any who would look that the budget was on the brink of collapse. I wrote “The Perfect Budget Storm” in May of 2001, and said just that. Within 6 months, the budget collapsed.
We are in the same place today as we were in 1999-2000. This year’s budget increased spending from $78.7 billion to $90.14 billion, a 14% increase. Now some will say that last year’s budget really didn’t spend $78.7 billion, it really spent $80.7 billion or $81.7 billion. It doesn’t matter—it is still a 10% increase. The fact is that this budget took nearly every dime of new money that came in, and spent it on bigger government. We are sowing the seeds of the next budget disaster.
And some of the liberals in Sacramento think we didn’t spend enough. They complained about how we were punishing the poor and the school children. They sounded an awful lot like they did in 1999-2000, when they planted the seeds that cost Gray Davis his job. They are acting like drunken sailors again.
I hope I am wrong. My Democrats friends think I am just crying wolf. Except the last time I cried “wolf” at a budget crisis, a whole pack of wolves showed up (in fact, a few of them are still around), and a Governor lost his job because he didn’t listen. Unfortunately, it looks to me as if we are making the same mistakes as we did in the 1999-2001 budget years. Only time will tell.
[This piece originally appeared at CaliforniaRepublic.org.]