Instability Reigns

(I’ll be on Friday’s episode of Your Call Radio to discuss the budget. More info at – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

A few posts below this, you’ll see a post from a member of the press team of my former employer, Kamala Harris, arguing against the cuts to the AG’s office.  And it won’t take you all that much Googling to find similar complaints from other quarters.  Most interestingly, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court is blasting it:

“The cumulative impact of the cuts to the courts in the last three years will have the effect of court closures, fewer services to court users, and the spectre of more furloughs and layoffs for employees,” she said in a prepared statement. “It will affect everyone and anyone connected to the courts in civil cases, criminal cases, family law, probate, and small claims.”

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“These cuts are unsustainable and incompatible with equal justice for all,” Cantil-Sakauye warned. “This is a sad day for justice in California.”(Fresno Bee)

The Courts were handed $350 million in cuts, and another $100 million was raided from their building funds.  Not exactly the way to win friends in the judiciary if any of your legislation comes through, I suppose.  But the cuts to courts are really more pernicious than that, as you can end up with criminal defendants denied their rights to speedy trials and other consititional protections.  I have faith in the courts to work some magic to try to balance their competing interest, but this is a very worrisome cut.

On something of a tangent, it might be worthwhile to look at ensuring that all court costs are properly being paid by all parties in litigation.  I don’t blame the courts for this, but on occasion, you’ll find defendants can get off without paying their share of court costs depending on timing of a settlement or other proceedings.  

But really, this budget is filled with worrisome cuts.  Deep cuts to higher education that will force higher taxes tuition for students.  Delays to K12 funding that will challenge our teachers and hurt our next generation.  And, as noted already, some very real cuts to law enforcement.  As Sen. Steinberg has pointed out several times in the press, we are now at one of the most austere budgets in a generation or more.

But even with this austerity, we have not arrived at anything representing stability.  There are a plethora of reasons for that, but the biggest of all of these is clearly Prop 13’s insistence on a preference for income and sales taxes over the more stable property tax.  Sure, this budget includes the Amazon tax provisions championed by Sen. Hancock and Asm. Skinner, but these revenue sources are hardly sufficient to overcome the loss of the taxes at the end of the month.

As the dominoes fall from this budget, expect instability to continue to raise its head.  Already several counties have discussed applying a local tax to recover some of the cuts from the loss of the sales tax.  Expect such a measure to appear to show up as soon as the November ballot in San Francisco, and perhaps elsewhere next year.

These funding levels themselves are unsustainable for the long haul.  Eventually things fall apart. Infrastructure crumbles, the mentally ill are exposed through homelessness and crime, and the state becomes a less welcoming place for rich and poor alike.  And when you talk about business friendly climates, stability is always at the top of the list.  For so long we have been able to balance the act through super glue, chewing gum and duct tape.  And so it goes this year, with the “triggers” being this year’s duct tape.

But for all the drama of the past few months, the Republicans have to look back at this process with some fondess and some regret.  Ultimately they got what was their stated goal of drastic cuts. But because of their obstinacy, the rest of their ransom note got essentially nowhere.  Perhaps that can be some consolation to progressives as we try our best to make do with what is pretty much a disaster budget.

This was supposed to be the year that we got some breathing room for the budget that allowed us to do some long-range planning and to drastically reduce some of this instability.  Clearly that didn’t happen, but don’t be surprised to see some sort of revenue measure on the November 2012 budget.