By Jon Fleischman
Last week, after a minor kabuki dance between Governor Jerry Brown and his fellow Democrats in the state legislature, a deal was struck: California has a new state budget that weighs in at a record-setting $115.4 billion.
Or, put another way, California taxpayers this year are providing more funds for state government than at any other time — ever.
Furthermore, those Californians who pay taxes are amongst the highest-taxed people in the nation.
This budget’s authors did not meaningfully engage the GOP in the debate process (well, certainly with not any discernible positive results), and it was passed with only votes from Democrat legislators in the Assembly, and a handful of Republicans in the Senate.
The new state spending is a cornucopia of liberal spending priorities, and is loaded with billions upon billions of dollars in wealth redistribution programs. And, of course, as the size of the budget grows, more programs spring forth.
This year, for the first time, the state is starting to cover some healthcare costs for illegal immigrants, and a massive new tax credit for the poor.
Perhaps this liberal budget may be more notable for what is not in it, rather than what is. This budget fails to address our state government’s vast (and growing) unfunded liabilities–most notably, its unfunded commitments to pensioners present and future, and its unfunded commitments for retiree healthcare benefits. Glaringly absent from the budget is pay-as-you-go funding for sorely-needed transportation infrastructure–roads, highways, streets, bridges and the like.
Clearly the left-wingers who dominate the Capitol did want to fund “boring” brick-and-mortar functions of government when they can blow the top off of social spending programs instead?
In fact, in a glaring in-your-face taunt to minority Republican legislators, the day the Governor agreed to a budget with relatively little investment into transportation infrastructure, Brown issued a proclamation calling for a special session of the legislature, “to consider and act upon legislation necessary to enact pay-as-you-go, permanent and sustainable funding at adequately and responsibly maintain and repair the state’s transportation and other critical infrastructure.”
To be very clear about what is happening here–upon agreeing to a spending plan that, except for a small but prudent reserve, contemplates spending all of the state’s anticipated taxpayer-provided revenues (again, at their highest levels in history) the governor is asking for permanent pay-as-you-go funding for transportation.
Translation: Brown wants a tax increase here, and he is willing to jam legislators who don’t go along with it as somehow not being concerned about showing a willingness to act on our state’s ailing and aging transportation infrastructure.
The governor and Democrat legislative leaders are presenting GOP legislators, who have enough votes when unified to block any tax increases, with a false choice: either increase government revenues or let our roads, highways and bridges crumble.
The hubris of Capitol Democrats knows no bounds. That Californians would fund state government at record levels, and not have a big chunk of that go to repair existing roads and and build new ones, is nothing short of amazing.
Both State Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, on behalf of their respective caucuses, need to be forceful and direct in this situation, with words to the effect of, “While the majority party chose not to include Republicans, or our ideas (which included a specific proposal to secure dedicated ongoing funds for transportation infrastructure) in the state budget process, Republicans stand ready to revisit the state’s spending plan, and to do so now. Increasing the burden on already over-taxed Californians is totally off the table.”
The problem here is not that Californians are under-funding their government. It is that the liberals in control of state government have failed to prioritize many of the things that matter. Failing to adequately address transportation infrastructure in the budget is like a family not budgeting their house payment.
Of course Capitol Democrats are hoping for the win-win. They would love to get some Republicans to go up on tax increases, get more funds into the state coffers of course. But no doubt they would be licking their chops over the internal GOP civil war that would result if Republicans raise taxes when the entire mantra of the successful 2014 campaign to end the Democrat legislative supermajorities was stopping tax increases.
In 1788 one of our nation’s most famous founders, Thomas Jefferson, wrote that, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”
Let’s show California taxpayers that their faith in the GOP to safeguard their liberty is not misplaced.