End the budget madness

California has a budget.

Nobody is particularly happy about it; in fact, this budget is the ugly, misshapen document that results when no one wants to claim responsibility for it. It cuts health care for children but expands drilling for oil; it cuts funding for prisons but retains furloughs for state employees; it pulls money from cities and counties that those local governments had already been told they could count on in order to balance their own budgets.

In short, it’s a mess.

The reason for the mess is the same as it’s always been: the insane requirement that two-thirds of the state legislators must vote in agreement with the budget. Such a requirement guarantees—especially when the governor is more concerned with his image than with actually keeping the state working—that whatever cobbled-together mess we get will be full of unforeseen consequences.

Last week, the Republicans were gnashing their teeth and making threats about one of those unforeseen consequences. When you make across-the-board cuts, some of your favorite things will lose out; in this case, it was the prisons. Many of California’s most outspoken law-and-order conservatives were outraged that, under the new budget, prisoners would be released early. Surprise! You’d think they’d realize that if you want to lock up every criminal in the state and throw away the key, you have to pay for the facilities and guards to do it.

Of course, this concern for the early release of some nonviolent offenders was so touching, we almost forgot about the number of in-home care providers whose jobs will be reduced or cut, the students who will drop out of school because tuition is going up or the HIV/AIDS patients who will find their care and services cut.

But, of course, the “no new taxes” crowd wins out, which means California remains a rarity among oil-producing states in that we still do not collect taxes on fossil fuels, never mind the record profits posted by oil companies and our state’s dire need for cash. What’s more, while the Republicans scream about high taxes, the corporate tax burden has actually gone down in the last three decades—from roughly 9 percent in 1981 to about 5 percent now—while the personal income-tax burden is far heavier on low-wage earners than on the wealthy. But there’s no acknowledgement of that, only the demand that California’s most vulnerable citizens do without services they need.

All right, then. It’s time to head back to the drawing board. We need to release state legislators who are held hostage by the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote on the budget, and we need to do it now. Let’s have some budgets that put California’s people as a priority, because we certainly can’t afford another budget like this one.