Gov. Jerry Brown delivered something last week Californians haven't seen in more than a half-decade — a balanced budget. Granted, it's only balanced with the help of some fuzzy math formulas and rose-colored projections about the economy. In viewing it, one also needs to wear blinders to the state's “wall of debt” — now at roughly $36 billion — created by the gimmicks and tricks of budgets past.
But what can't be dismissed is that that this is the first time since 2007 that Californians have seen a spending plan that looks close to being balanced. Credit for that largely belongs to an improved economy and to voters who approved Proposition 30 in November, preventing public schools and schoolchildren from falling further behind from the rest of the nation.
Thanks to the tax increases in the ballot measure, the 2013-14 budget includes a nearly $3 billion increase in funding for for K-12 schools and community colleges and $125 million more for the University of California and California State University systems. Meanwhile, the governor says his plan includes cutting the debt wall down to $4.3 billion in four years.
Equally welcome news was the governor's pledge to continue pushing fiscal conservancy along in Sacramento given that the state is far from out of the woods. But it remains to be seen whether the Legislature, with its newfound Democratic supermajority, shares the governor's resolve for fiscal restraint.
So far, it does not look promising. Exhibit A is a bill introduced just last week that calls for reinstating one of two paid state holidays that were eliminated in the midst of the state's fiscal crisis four years ago. AB 55 by Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-West Covina, calls for restoring Columbus Day, but officially renaming it as Native American Day.
For those who don't recall, this was one of the two paid holidays that were eliminated during the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cost-savings measure. The other holiday was Lincoln's birthday. The cuts reduced the number of paid holidays for state workers from 13 to 11, still at least three paid holidays more than those in the private sector enjoy.