That’s the difference between how much money California expects to rake in next year via taxation, fees and such, and how much it would like to spend.
As mentioned yesterday, 48 state parks are on the governor’s chopping block. When I suggested the problem is Californians wanting things they don’t like to pay for, Fedak responded that he’s paying enough taxes already, thank you. I understand the sentiment — most of my taxes would be far better spent supplying me with beer — but the other side of the coin is that every government in the history of civilization has spent every penny it could extract from from its citizens, plus whatever it could get away with borrowing on a promise that its citizens will pay off the note. Giving a bureaucrat 10 bucks just naturally makes him think how much happier he’d be with 11.
Wary citizens have worked this out — in California it takes a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to approve a tax increase. Just to sex things up, it also takes a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to approve a budget. Furthermore, the state’s finances are hostage to the whims of the economy, so every time there’s a housing bust or a dot-com bust or a basalt mining bust, red ink floods the streets of Sacramento.
Arnie’s proposing a 10 percent across-the-board cut in the state budget, which means some of the state’s most powerful forces — teachers and prison guards unions, in particular — will be scratching and clawing for every last penny they can protect. If he were to propose a 10 percent across-the-board tax increase, he’d be laughed out of the Republican Party (though I can’t see how that’d be a bad thing).
The expedient response to such an impasse is to borrow more billions and hope the economy improves. The thoughtful, sane response would be to craft a more buoyant state financial system that can ride the economy’s waves without taking on water every 18 months. The odds of this happening in California — where voters cleverly rigged it so their housing values could go through the roof with barely a dent in their property tax bills — seem remote.
Which brings us to: what should we grubby hiker types do to protect Henry Coe and Portola Redwoods and all the other parks on the governor’s hit list? In the short run, we elbow our way into the attention span of distracted politicos and let ’em know the parks won’t go down without a scrum. (Though, frankly, the creatures of the forest would thank us if we just locked the gates and stayed away forever).
The long-term issue is to make the parks more politically secure by getting people off their couches and out into their parks. Unfortunately, the pleasure we get from having trails to ourselves is what makes places like Henry Coe attractive targets for budget cutting. Joe Politico pays no price for cutting a park nobody uses.
Update: The state’s parks and recreation budget proposal is here. Looks like we’re talking $14 million in cuts, which seems like chump change in the grand scheme of things .