Editor's Notes

The state budget is not a game; there are people's lives in the balance

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Tredmond@sfbg.com

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, which is not know for its fiery progressive editorials, took all of the major candidates for governor to task May 22 for failing to offer any real solutions to the horrific budget problem: "[A]ll three are presenting the types of phantom savings ('Let's slash waste, fraud, and abuse! Cut across the board!') and the panacea of collaboration ('Everyone to the table! Appoint a blue-ribbon commission!') that substitute for real leadership on the campaign trail."

It makes me want to throw up. This is not a game; there are literally people's lives in the balance. Even Jerry Brown, the Democrat's best hope, is ducking madly. Jerry says that the folks "with the biggest belts should tighten them." Sounds good, but what the hell does it mean?

Well, according to his press spokesman, it means nothing at all. I called the Brown for Governor campaign last week, and asked Sterling Clifford, who handles press for Jerry (that's got to be a tough job) whether his boss was talking about higher taxes. No: "I think he has been very clear that there will be no new taxes unless the people vote on them." (Actually, since the Public Policy Institute says two-thirds of Californians would support raising taxes on the rich to pay for education, a vote would likely be positive — but the campaign would be expensive and Brown would have to lead it.)

But he's not willing to commit to any specific cuts in any specific programs. He's not saying which belts he wants to tighten.

Here's the hard, cold fact: You can't solve California's budget crisis by cuts alone, not unless you want to utterly abandon the state's commitment to public education and social services (oh, and let about half the people in prison go free). Meg Whitman wants to lay off thousands of state workers (and create more unemployment). But even if you fired every single one of the 238,575 people who work for the state of California, you still wouldn't cover a $19 billion hole. (The state's total payroll in April was about $1.4 billion, or $17 billion a year.)

And we're still stuck with billions in debt from the past few years when the governor couldn't deal with reality and bumped it off into the future.

Maybe Brown thinks the economy will magically improve when he takes office, and the problem will solve itself. But it won't. This is a structural issue, and until everyone, including the news media, accepts that, we're just going to get into deeper and deeper doo-doo.