I had fun with the state budget the other day. The Sacramento Bee has a pretty good online simulation that lets you pick programs to cut and revenues to raise to see if you can get rid of a $26.4 billion deficit, and I gave it a shot. It took me exactly seven minutes to turn the red ink into a $2.1 billion surplus.
See, it’s not that hard. Extend the 2009 tax increases, as Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested. Force multistate corporations to pay taxes based on sales in California. Increase the corporate income tax rate to the same level as the personal income tax rate. Eliminate the Prop. 13 loophole for nonresidential property. Pass an oil severance tax. A few more mouse clicks and bingo: I’ve got $28 billion, without cutting much of anything. (Well, I cut prison spending.)
The lesson you get from playing, of course, is that cuts alone will never do the job; there’s not enough left to cut.
When I finished, I called the office of Asemblymember Connie Conway (R-Tulare). She chairs the Republican Caucus gave the formal GOP response to Brown’s State of the State speech and insisted that new taxes were not acceptable.
Her press spokesperson, Sabrina Lockhart, was very friendly and nice. I told her about the Bee game and asked: If you don’t like Brown’s taxes, what specifically should the state cut?
Lockhart’s response: “Our focus has been on creating jobs to bring in new revenue.”
Okay, I’m for that, too, but let’s be real. Even if 1 million new jobs materialized tomorrow, that wouldn’t bring in enough money this year to balance the budget. Brown’s proposing $12 billion in cuts. If that’s not enough, what else do the Republicans think should go?
Lockhart: “The Republicans are engaged in the subcommittee process and will be reviewing the governor’s proposals.”
But your boss said no taxes, I told her. There are really only two options; taxes or more cuts, right? Am I missing something here?
Lockhart hemmed and hawed for a moment. “That’s why we think job creation has to be a part of this,” she finally said.
Well, I do, too, but it’s just not that simple. If the Republicans don’t want taxes, why won’t they tell us what they want to cut instead? Seriously, what Brown is offering is brutal, bloody — what else would the GOP members put on the chopping block?
Answer: They have no proposals. Nothing at all. Just no new taxes. If I were Jerry Brown, I’d be drinking heavily.