Sunday, February 25, 2007

Politics of Public’s Money

A good reminder that what should happen with our money rarely does, but that is the way of life and never cause to not continue to laud the producer of the facts (as this column does), or advocate for balanced reasonable policies.

Good policy advocacy is crucial to the political process and very often some part, maybe even a large part, gets woven into the actual policy legislated into law.

Dan Walters: Politicians can't claim ignorance
By Dan Walters - Bee Columnist
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, February 25, 2007

Given the short attention span of those in politics -- roughly extending to the next election -- it's remarkable that in the 65-year history of the Legislature's budget office, only four people have carried the title of "legislative analyst."

Elizabeth Hill has held the job for the past two decades, second only to the fabled A. Alan Post (1949-1977) in longevity, and last week, Hill completed her most important annual chore by releasing her staff's exhaustive analysis of the governor's proposed budget.

Hill and the report her office produced epitomize just-the-facts financial and policy analysis, cutting through the supposition, political rhetoric and downright fantasy that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, emulating his predecessors, employed in unveiling his budget last month. One example: Counting on $500 million in revenue from expanding Indian casino gambling even though pacts are stalled in the Legislature.

Hill's three biggest points, couched in dry language, were that:

• Despite all the noise about eliminating the state's "net operating deficit," California's budget still has a chronic gap of multibillion-dollar proportions, and when you discount the governor's gimmicks and suppositions and factor in declining revenue, the deficit is as bad as ever.

• The state should reduce unspent school appropriations for the current fiscal year to save about $1.3 billion over the next 18 months and narrow the budget gap.
• The governor should slow down the repayment of the bonds the state issued three years ago to refinance its short-term budget debt, thereby freeing up more revenue to cover next year's gap.

Hill knows that, as usual, her major recommendations may be dead on arrival because they conflict with the politics that drive the budget process. The one major suggestion from Hill that was adopted in recent years, a one-time cut in school aid, became an immense political firestorm. The very powerful Education Coalition used it as a political hammer on Schwarzenegger, accusing him of reneging on a promise to restore the money.