California’s Real Budget Victims

It is common in the world of politics, for attention to be focused on the absolutely dead wrong thing. 

Sometimes that is done by intent – “Look over there, say isn’t that Elvis?” – to low-ball some greasy piece of legislation or fly some unpopular regulatory or policy change under the public’s radar. 

In the case of the seemingly endless machinations on the budget, there was lots of hullabaloo over whether the governor well veto the spending plan lawmakers sent him 77 days after the start of the fiscal year on July 1. That tardiness is a record in California’s 158-year-old statehood. The governor pledges he will so the tardiness is going to get even tardier. 

So intense was the initial veto speculation that Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Alameda, issued a statement denouncing the governor’s veto before the governor announced it.  

So now a lot of wrongly placed energy is being expended assessing whether the Legislature will actually override the governor’s veto. 

When Schwarzenegger pitched his flavor of budget “reform” at a  closed-door caucus of Republican lawamakers, they — rather impolitely — wore name tags in an attempt to clue in the governor that they felt he wasn’t spending enough quality time with them, assuming such a thing is possible. 

Most Republican lawmakers view the governor somewhere along a spectrum of virulent hatred, including but limited to severe froth-mouth, and benign neglect. 

Enough of them appear clustered at the virulent hatred end of the spectrum to do a pretty righteous Et Tu Brute if they get the chance. 

Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. 

Another school of thought believes the veto is a way for Schwarzenegger to inoculate himself against criticism over what a steamer this spending plan really is. 

 “I said this was an irresponsible, kick-the-can-down-the-road pile of offal and I terminated it,” these theorists conjecture the governor’s thinking to be. But the pesky Legislature, blessed as they are with the vision of cavefish, enacted it over my strenuous objections.” 

And so on. 

Giving the governor some credit, to allege it is a responsible budget lawmakers dumped on him is akin to saying Peter Lorre bears an uncanny resemblance to Clark Gable. 

Even Perata’s preemptive strike press statement describes the budget as a failure. Democrats have no culpability, however, Perata alleges. It’s all those rock-headed GOP extortionists who sell their votes for a lot of tax breaks for corporate robber barons. 

And so on. Ad nauseum. Ad hominum. 

But the fact is the budget dance needs to end because of the suffering and angst the lack of one is causing. 

Tragically, nobody appears to care about the real victims of this debacle: 

The employees of the Department of Finance. 

While the GOP governor and the Legislature engage in frank but fruitless discussion, the Ninth Ring of Dante’s Inferno hell-and-a-half the 422.6 employees – down from 436.8 in the governor’s January budget – is both unspeakable and unimaginable. 

(Editor’s Note: Bummer about whittling that .8 employee down to a .6er. Hopefully, when the budget dust settles they won’t become a .4 because then they’d be half the person they once were.) 

Visualize their torment:  

The task of a doughty Department of Finance budgeteer is to lovingly craft California’s annual spending plan.  To stitch together from mere forecasts, estimates and prognostications an intricate filigree (Editor’s Note: Is there any other kind?) of fiscal stratagems to pilot the Golden State into a sunnier future. 

This is the charge, the duty, the obligation. 

Normally in September, as autumn beckons, the budgetary circle of life begins anew. Analysts and program managers wake from hibernation renewed, vigorous in both purpose and intent. 

Personnel Years are harvested. Economic indicators gathered. Demographic projections gleaned. Meeting and conference calls sprout. Through the tender ministrations of California’s financiers, a new budget slowly takes root. 

Not this year. It’s that Persephone and Hades thing all over again. 

Instead of fiduciary fecundity, all is fallow. Instead of budding A-pages, stony earth. 


Because there is no old budget from which a new one can spring.  Finance’s plucky staff still staggers under the burden of a nightmare that the state constitution says should have been dispatched June 30. Until it becomes history, there are no projections, no baselines, no Power Points to build the future. 

Valiant budgeters are whipsawed between gamely trying to finally put a budget in place for the current fiscal year and generate a new one for the next fiscal year. 

That means doing two things at once.  

The horror, the horror. 

It’s high time lawmakers and Governor Schwarzenegger end their rhetoric sparring and offer both solace and respite to these, the true victims, of California’s budget disaster. 


And please, brothers and sisters,  place an offering in the tray as it comes around. 


Filed under: Venting


  1. Sadly, all so true. But don’t forget about the Leg Counsel’s Office and the Senate and Assembly budget staffs. They have to actually put the deal(s) into bill form, trailer bill after trailer bill after…Maybe the hard work that has gone into the Department of Finance, et al’s Fi$Cal program will finally bear fruit, someday, when the current budget games have played themselves out.

    Comment by Robyn Boyer — 9.16.2008 @ 9:20 pm

  2. Sadly indeed. Now should be the time for Finance and program administrators to review the prior and current year budget allocations for the performance of programs with the goal of producing a spending plan for 2009-10 that might be a guide to better outcomes. Not only are those guide posts not up but the proposed budget takes a significant amount of revenue away from the 2009-10 budget and gives it to the current year. I suspect our friends in Finance upon hearing about the revenue measures viewed with alarm asking…You want to do what?????

    One would only hope that Fi$Cal when implemented will be used by Governors who build budgets and Legislators/staffs who help craft the final product. It has the potential for actually improving budget making in California…

    Comment by Fred Silva — 9.17.2008 @ 11:41 am

  3. The budget affects each Californian therefore Californians have the right to know what is going on with the budget and the budget-making process. The California Budget Challenge allows you to craft your own version of the state budget-deciding what to spend and what to tax-giving you a look into how the budget works. Try it for yourself to learn more and to get involved! http://www.next10.org/challenge

    Comment by Soph575 — 9.18.2008 @ 7:45 pm

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