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On Thursday, state government will begin a new budget year without a budget — and not a clue about how to close a $19 billion gap between spending and revenue. Get ready for IOUs and the other familiar embarrassments associated with a state that can't manage its finances.

No one is surprised. Californians agonize about their state's future, but they have given up on state government. In one of the wealthiest places on earth, we have work to do to sustain our prosperity, but after so many years of political dysfunction, it would be foolish to be optimistic about our immediate prospects in Sacramento.

So, come home to Sonoma County, where the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a balanced budget. You can be sure that no supervisor liked making choices that involved the elimination of 237 jobs and $61 million in spending cuts that affect public safety, planning, parks and environmental protection.

But this is what grown-ups do; they live within their means. If you don't understand why, take a look around at the unfolding train wreck.

Unfortunately, counties, cities and school districts remain hostage to the state's budget stalemate — which is likely to drag on through a long, hot summer of partisanship and special interest politics. (For the record, the state Legislature was supposed to submit a budget by June 15.)

"It's going to get worse before it gets better," Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown told me last week. "We're going to take another hit (when the state budget is passed)."

If the state cuts programs that help the most needy in our community, the county could be on the hook for another $60 million, according to County Administrator Veronica Ferguson.

By the way, if you think it's irrational to require local governments to adopt spending plans without knowing what the state may decide, well, welcome to their world.

Meanwhile, projections for future years predict more of the same as tax revenues continue to trail spending demands.

To reduce the deficit, Senate Democrats last week proposed handing counties the responsibilities for a variety of welfare, public safety and health programs. Ostensibly, the proposal comes with a promise of some tax revenues to pay the bills.

But if you think the state can be trusted to pay for obligations imposed on local government, you haven't been paying attention. "The promise of money coming down is not a very good promise — ever," Brown said.

Also last week, Assembly Democrats said they want to borrow against revenues from a tax that doesn't exist. Never mind that Attorney General Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, said their borrowing scheme is likely illegal.

Old story: While local governments labor to balance their budgets, state government feels no such obligation. Each year brings new kinds of budget gimmickry, all designed to disguise the credit card slips.

Supervisor Brown brings a unique perspective to the relationship between state and local government. She served on the Sonoma City Council and in the state Assembly before being elected to the Board of Supervisors. She is now president of the National Association of Counties.

I asked her what she would change about state government, and she offered two reforms: (1) Follow Nebraska's lead and establish a unicameral Legislature, and (2) permit budgets to be passed by a simple majority in each house of the Legislature.

But Brown isn't optimistic that reforms are possible in the current political climate. "I think we're a long way from (reforms) or dealing with term limits," she said. "It's getting to the point where I think it's not moveable ..."

And what would she change about county government? She would provide counties with their own reliable and independent source of revenue.

"Counties ought to be cut free," she said. "We know how do to the job, and we know how to do it better than the state ... People are more comfortable with funding local government to fund local services."

Brown cited the ongoing reorganization of county government as proof of local government's commitment to provide more efficient service.

If you want to know the difference between local and state government, consider: Since 2008, the number of county workers has declined by more than 11 percent, from 4,279 to 3,805. During the same period, the number of full-time state workers increased from 210,252 to 211,112.

In an era of double-digit unemployment, there aren't many organizations that employ more people today than they did two years ago. State government thinks it is immune from the economic forces that affect everyone else.

At this late date, there will be no escaping a hard reckoning. A disillusioned electorate is no longer interested in compromises that involve a general tax increase.

Sadly, the inevitable spending cuts will hurt the most vulnerable people among us. When politicians fail to manage the public treasury in a coherent way, they always hurt the people they claim to want to help. I guess we call that irony.

<i>Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. E-mail him at petegolis@pressdemo.com.

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