Can someone remind again me why Gray Davis was recalled by the California voters? I asked this question for the first time five years ago.
Back then, former Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill issued a statement that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's budget numbers were a "missed opportunity" to improve the state's fiscal condition, and could further jeopardize the state's long-term economic future. She stated the governor's budget would balance until 2006-07, when California would again face huge, ongoing and multibillion-dollar deficits.
Those, my friends, were certainly the good old days. We didn't know it then, but looking back, what else can we conclude?
That was when the governor and Legislature could, after months of playing budgetary chicken, hold a joint news conference to tout the completion of a budget, which was merely kicking the can down the road and everyone knew it.
We've now reached the end of the road and there is no can to kick. The state has institutionalized its budget deficits with spending and low taxes.
There are no more one-time windfalls that can be applied to the budget, as if they were a permanently dedicated line item like the voter-supported initiatives that take up a good portion of the general fund.
The state has committed funds to public education and draconian tough-on-crime laws, built more prisons, taken power away from the Legislature and passed bond measures without any mechanism to address the unintended consequences that are a natural by-product of this process.
Moreover, none of the quick fixes that make for good sound bites will do the trick. Demoting the Legislature to part-time may temporarily soothe our frustrations, but it won't change anything. Nor will cutting teacher's pay or cutting state bureaucracy by 20 percent.
"Waste, fraud and abuse, oh my!" can no longer be the governor's mantra as the way to solve this problem.
While California is certainly not alone in its budget debacle, it has the distinction of being the largest state in history to become virtually unmanageable. Try as we might, we cannot scapegoat our way out of the problem, we can't borrow, and we can't expect the Legislature to work out a viable compromise because they are mired in the quicksand of their rhetoric and any deal will look like political flip-flop.
The state is projected to run out of money by July 28 and those charged with solving the problem are more committed to what they will not do than they are to what is possible, regardless of how politically unpopular it may be, to fix the problem.
The governor and the Legislature, based on the recommendations coming from each group, can't decide on the size of the problem. Do we have a $24 billion deficit as the governor's proposal assumes or do we have a $19 billion problem as the Democratic-led Legislature suggests?
But I was wrong earlier when I said we cannot scapegoat our way out; we can and are doing so. I forgot about the most vulnerable members of society.
Single mothers living below the poverty line do not need additional help -- get another job! Libraries, school lunches for those who can't afford it are a waste of the public's resources. Why should I pay for someone else to have health care?
And for those low-income students who have worked hard to maintain a B average expecting the state to keep its promise to reserve a place in its California State University system, you're out too! We know cutting higher education is akin to taking out a vital organ to lose weight, and studies show that every $1 invested in CSU student's returns $4 to the state economy. But that's your problem -- deal with it.
Those who we have selected to sacrifice so that the state can address the budget problems don't have lobbyists. You are not part of any particular special-interest group.
Will these proposals close the deficit? No!
But it's not about finding a solution to the budget problems, its more about the withdrawals we're experiencing from no longer being able to kick the can down the road.
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist and blog-talk radio host. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at email@example.com or visit his website: byronspeaks.com