Monday, November 17, 2008
California's Broke And I Don't Care
[Update: Since I wrote this, they've amended the expenditure number to $136B from $141B by including "a decrease of $4.673 billion to reflect expenditure offsets provided by the issuance of Revenue Anticipation Warrants in 2009-10 for costs incurred in 2008-09." Hmm. I remember Revenue Anticipation Warrants from Popeye cartoons. I'll gladly pay you Wednesday for a hamburger today. Oh, and they wiped the entire linked 2008-2009 budget line items completely. Ah, government transparency]
Don't get me wrong; I like California. I lived there for a year or more back when Jimmy Carter was still desolating the landscape. My brother lives there still. I was as much an itinerant migrant worker as anybody referred to on that map. We didn't have a Dust Bowl to drive us west from my native Massachusetts, but we had the Blizzard of '78 and Michael Dukakis, which was pretty good, too.
The reason I don't care "California's broke" is I know that means that the government of California is broke, not its citizens. Unlike everybody involved in the dissemination of news, I don't conflate the two.
The Governator has his hand out for federal money. With San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi running congress and some high-powered senators on the other end of the hillhall, he might get a taste. It's a bad idea. When a fellow you know comes up to you at the racetrack and says he's lost all his money because his can't-miss horse threw a shoe, and wants to borrow a few hundred so he can buy groceries to feed his children, you're wise to at least consider that his kids might go hungry no matter what you do.
The media, who are useless, report California requires a $28 billion dollar "bailout," because they can't add and don't own a dictionary. According to California's own webpage, there's a $14.5 billion dollar deficit for the current year. Your eyes will glaze over trying to research the real numbers for the California state budget; like all such things, no one will give you a straight answer, because they either don't really know but can't admit they don't know, or... they really need to borrow a couple hundred to feed their children because this can't-miss horse threw a shoe...
This chart, supplied in execrable .pdf, says the budget for 2008-2009 is $141 billion, so we could run with that. The Governator's office, which I imagine has a weight room and gives yoghurt enemas free to all state employees, reports that they're spending $139 billion while collecting $129 billion for 2008-2009. I imagine that Ahhnold ate some of both piechart pies. Let's go with $141 billion and a $14.5 billion deficit and stop wasting our time.
I ask you: Could you trim ten percent out of your budget and still eat three times a day? Of course you could. I'm not going to go out on the skinny tie/big beltbuckle/hoarding gold, ammo and canned goods limb and say everything the government does is useless, but nobody in any government seems to be walking both ways to work, carrying a sandwich in a bag. A sane person could trim ten percent out of that budget and no one sane would notice.
We shouldn't make the mistake of equating a state budget and a household or business budget. Likewise don't equate sanity with participants in almost any government. It's not a person to be reasoned with. Not even the participants understand exactly how to run it any more. They just think they can demand money and it will show up and they will spend it. Until it doesn't.
Money isn't showing up right now, so they're looking for it in the federal couch cushions. There's even less money there, because we're talking all deficits all the time of course; but even if California borrows the borrowed money, would California's citizens be better off? I doubt it. The runaway train aspect of governance allows very little room for maneuver. On one hand, anyone who campaigns on the "Let's close down government and have a barter/gold coin economy again" isn't talking sense, and deserves the .05 percent of the vote they get. The flip side of that (gold) coin is the notion that if you raise taxes over and over, we'll all be rich when the tax rate gets to 110%. I have my doubts.
A good politician these days simply says "I wont make things worse," and doesn't. That's not a sexy mandate, and since politics is showbiz for ugly people, and California has gone whole hog and made politics into showbiz for ugly showbiz people now, the only hope is that the whole thing fails and you start over. It's a shame, because then the real California -- the people that live there -- will suffer.
I went into the line items for the actual budget, to perform the usual back-seat-driver-blog-thing of finding the dollar value of the deficit in golden toilet seat covers and diversity training fees for gay/lesbian/transgendered college republicans and other easy to find fiscal abominations. I found something so much more disquieting and Kafkaesque, which made up my mind that the California government needs to collapse into a pile of dust before it gets one more cent of anyone's money.
Look at this enormous list of enormous expenditures. Scroll down to: Tax Relief.
[Up-update: California keeps wiping out even the cached version of these pages. Here's a screenshot of the Budget for 2008-2009 as enacted.]
The State of California taxes its citizens over $500 million dollars and then spends it on giving relief to its citizens because their taxes are too high.