Charging ahead

The plastic budget: Having been a low-paid journalist throughout the roaring ’90s, Bites has always used credit cards to subsidize my existence. Sure, it’s a fiscally irresponsible way to go through life, but with proletariat means and bourgeoisie tastes, what’s a soul to do?

Yet after attending last week’s press conference releasing the 2002-03 California Governor’s Budget, Bites isn’t feeling so bad about living life in the red. Hell, if the state can put fully half of its $12.5 billion budget shortfall on credit cards, what’s wrong with Bites’ plastic dependency?

Actually, Governor Gray Davis isn’t proposing to start using state Visa cards and MasterCards to pay for schools and prisons, but he might as well be, considering 50 percent of the budget gap will be closed by selling bonds, raiding dormant funds, withholding required payments and other fiscal tricks—all of which will require payments with interest in future years.

Conveniently, those future years just happen to fall after the November election.

Dick the Dodger: The man likely to be facing Davis in that election, Richard Riordan, was in Sacramento last week to watch a little television and take a few shots at the governor.

From his ninth floor suite at the Hyatt, surrounded by Republican supporters and a few journalists, Riordan seemed to be studying his opponent during the televised State of the State speech last Tuesday. It was a fairly subdued affair, with only a few lines from the speech drawing reactions from the crowd, mostly titters and eye-rolls.

Riordan keyed in mostly on a couple of lines from the speech, both focused on the budget crisis.

The first was Davis’ linguistically gymnastic line, “I will not advocate raising taxes,” which can be translated as “I’ll get hammered by voters if I propose new taxes, but if liberal Democrats pass some tax increases, I’ll probably sign off.”

The second was Davis’ pledge to deal with the budget crisis “with the same resolve we demonstrated during the energy crisis.”

“I certainly hope not,” Riordan quipped. And it’s worth noting that the governor pursued similar solutions to both crises: buying his way out of the problem with the revenues of future generations.

Yet while Riordan was long on criticism, he was short on solutions, ignoring Bites’ “How would you close the budget deficit?” question several times, then finally dismissing it with a “We’re going to look into it” blowoff.

Bites has been fruitlessly watching the fax machine for “Riordan’s Proposed Budget” ever since.

SRO: With pre-release leaks of budget data kept to a minimum this year, the budget release created a circus-like atmosphere at the Capitol, with hundreds of people—lobbyists, government officials, nonprofit activists—lining the hallways from the Department of Finance office, waiting for the noon release time to get their copy of the budget.

The press conference room was noisy and boisterous, at least until the towers of budget documents starting being passed out, then there was near silence during the 15 minutes before the governor appeared, as journalists quickly looked for meaning and questions as if cramming for an exam.

Yet the efforts yielded few tough questions for the governor from the mostly deferential press corps, with the Bee’s Dan Walters being the notable exception as he aggressively and repeatedly pressed the governor, “Isn’t this deficit spending?”

Davis sidestepped the inquisition, saying he’d let Director of Finance Tim Gage answer the question. When Gage took the stage, his answer was telling: “No, it’s not deficit spending because state law doesn’t permit deficit spending.”

If it acts like a duck: OK, we’ll have enough budget wrangling over the coming months, so Bites wants to leave you with something lighter. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights this week announced a project to track insurance industry contributions to this year’s candidates for insurance commissioner.

In honor of disgraced former commissioner Chuck Quackenbush—who won the office with industry support before virtually dismantling its regulatory functions and fleeing to Hawaii where he sips mai tais and awaits his criminal indictment—the group calls it the Quack-o-Meter.