When I came to the Legislature in 1996 as an Assemblyman, the California state budget was just shy of $50 billion. Now it tops more than $100 billion.
The population in that time frame did not double but in fact grew by 18 percent. Why then has the budget doubled?
Quite simply, the Democrat-controlled Legislature was spending money as fast as it came in — creating new programs and greatly increasing money to expand existing programs — from revenues generated by the technological boom based largely in Silicon Valley.
It was as if California won the lottery and no adults were left in charge to manage the wealth.
Consequently, nothing was put aside for rainy days and no consideration was given to the inevitable downturn in California’s economy caused in part by the bust of the Internet industry and in later years, the housing crash.
Proposition 98 funding for education has experienced the biggest dollar growth. In 1996, when I was a freshman lawmaker, California spent $30.3 billion on K-14 education. Currently Prop. 98 spending is at $56.6 billion — representing 87 percent growth.
During that same time, the average daily attendance grew from 5.4 million students to 5.9 million — less than 10 percent growth.
I have always supported California students, and I have written legislation to put more money in the classroom and less in education bureaucracy. But I have to wonder why funding has outpaced enrollment by a wide margin. Furthermore, are taxpayers getting their money’s worth? After all, test scores in many school districts have remained stagnant, and high school dropout rates have improved only by a slight degree.
Funding for Health and Human Services (which includes Medi-Cal, food stamps, cash aid to families and foster care programs) has grown from $14.8 billion to $29 billion — a 98 percent growth rate.
I believe people in true need should be temporarily supported by the government — especially children. But it seems like the growth in these programs should be more in line with the population growth. Sure, rising health costs play a role, but Medi-Cal reimbursements to doctors have not kept up with health care costs, and the structure of welfare has been dramatically reformed in the time since I was sworn in to the Legislature.
Also keep in mind that the federal government matches Health and Human Services dollars upward of 2 to 1. So California has not only doubled its spending in this area, apparently the federal government has too.
Almost every other sector of government has nearly doubled and then some in budget numbers since 1996, including higher education ($6 billion then; $11.6 billion now); General Government ($1.2 billion then; $2.5 billion now); Resources ($771 million then; $1.6 billion now) and Corrections ($3.8 billion then; $10 billion now).
And what have California taxpayers received from their investment?
• A $16 billion deficit — and nary a bu get gimmick or trick left to close this gaping hole.
• At least $50 billion in bonded indebtedness for roads, water, prisons, stem cell research and “economic recovery” (which is a fancy way to say we borrowed money in 2004 to paper over that year’s deficit).
• A measurable rise in crime, particularly homicide, robbery and vehicle theft.
• More bureaucracy and less efficiency in almost every sector of government.
• Crumbling levees, water systems and roads
• A zero balance in the state’s savings account for emergencies or to balance the budget.
California taxpayers deserve better returns from their investment. It is time for the Legislature and the governor to make appropriate reductions to the bloated budget; in other words, I hope the Democrats will finally listen to our admonition that California must live within its means.