Given all the buildup that came before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May Revise, it may seem surprising that we have heard relatively little about the budget from the state’s media and politicians over the last few weeks. The June primary is partly responsible for this, as Sacramento’s attention is on the various primary contests in legislative districts around the state.
But an even bigger factor is that there does not actually seem to be any budget solution being actively discussed, and certainly none that would realistically solve the budget deficit. Arnold’s May Revise used as its cornerstone a questionable lottery borrowing plan, but as Evan Halper explains in today’s LA Times it is becoming difficult to take the plan seriously:
Californians find the governor’s lottery strategy so distasteful, a recent state poll suggests, that they would rather have their taxes raised. Meanwhile, lawmakers are denouncing the plan as a gimmick, and analysts say it could prove far costlier to the state than Schwarzenegger is letting on.
Voters would have to approve the governor’s proposal. But Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, said they meant it when they approved the lottery by ballot measure two decades ago to raise funds solely for schools.
“They don’t see it as money to move around and use for other purposes,” he said.
Administration officials are adamant that schools, the beneficiary of the lottery, would not lose money. Still, the institute released a poll Wednesday showing that only 30% of likely voters support the lottery borrowing (with 8% undecided), while 57% back the 1-cent sales tax increase that Schwarzenegger is grudgingly proposing as a backup if the lottery plan falters.
Although it’s not clear to me whether the 1-cent sales tax increase requires a 2/3 vote, Democrats should take note of that poll result. 57% is a pretty clear majority of Californians, suggesting that concerns voters won’t support higher taxes are overblown at best.
Halper wants to argue this is a sign that voters love their lottery, but the stats suggest otherwise:
California’s lottery is one of the more outdated in the country. And last month lottery officials reported that sales were $275 million below projections for the fiscal year ending this month.
So I don’t think it’s that voters have a strong connection to the lottery. What this instead suggests to me is that voters can see right through gimmicky proposals to provide yet another short-term budget fix, and are instead demanding long-term, permanent solutions.
Combine the lottery bonds’ low poll numbers, the dim prospects that the lottery would ever attain the sales levels necessary for the bond plan to succeed (as the article notes, lotteries need video terminals to achieve high sales figured and the tribal casinos would surely never let that happen), and the lack of enthusiasm around Sacramento for the plan and it seems that Arnold’s budget is DOA.
Unfortunately nobody has yet stepped up in Sacramento to offer an alternative plan. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration is a clear failure, but that doesn’t absolve Democrats of their responsibility to provide a coherent alternative. Californians are seeking real solutions, permanent budget fixes that will solve the structural revenue shortfall, protect core services, and position California for success in the 21st century economy. If we don’t solve this now, this state is going to fall permanently behind the rest of the globe, and more and more Californians are beginning to grasp this.
Now would be a good time for Democrats to step up and offer a coherent, long-term budget solution. Propose it before July 1 and start mobilizing public support for it as soon as possible. We know that Republicans will maintain a ridiculous “no new taxes” stance, but that seems to be politically untenable in this climate and is setting them up for big losses in the 2008 elections. Californians deserve a clear choice, and they deserve a budget that is sound, stable, and structurally secure.