Mythbusting the State Budget

Jean Ross and the California Budget Project have long ago proven themselves to be indispensable to the progressive movement in California, particularly to helping us cut through the BS and understand what is actually going on with the state budget. They’ve gone and proved their value again with this list of myths about the state budget – and what the truth really is. A sampling:

Myth: The largest share of the state budget goes to prisons.

Fact: The state spends 4 times as much on K-12 education than prisons, and 3 times as much on health and human services than prisons.

Myth: State spending is out of control.

Fact: State spending is $21 billion below the 2004 baseline projections, and as a share of the state economy, spending is lower than at any other time since the early 1970s.

Myth: California’s schools don’t have a “money problem”

Fact: By all measures, California’s schools rank near the bottom in terms of per pupil spending.

Myth: Raising taxes during a downturn is bad for the economy.

Fact: Prominent economists agree that spending cuts are more harmful to the economy than carefully targeted tax increases.

The full CBP report busts those and several more myths, all accompanied by charts that show very clearly what the truth is. It’s definitely worth a read.

Overall, it paints a very clear picture of what has happened to California’s budget. Hammered by the worst recession in 60 years, tax revenues suffered a catastrophic fall, worsening a situation in which the state already was keeping taxes artificially low. Since 2007, Sacramento has made the choice – and the CBP makes clear that it was indeed a choice – to enact austerity budgets characterized by unprecedented cuts that have shrunken state government to its smallest size (proportionally speaking) in 40 years. That comes despite the fact that the recession has increased demand for state services, and as the CBP shows, despite the fact that the most effective form of economic stimulus comes in the form of health and human services programs like food stamps.

These mythbusting facts are good things to keep on hand the next time you hear someone spout off about California’s “spending problem” or about some other aspect of the budget debate that cannot be supported by the evidence.