Brown bemoans Calif. budget process

By Chris Rizo | Nov 13, 2009

Jerry Brown (D)

SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline)-California's budget woes have been made significantly worse by partisan bickering and interference by the courts, state Attorney General Jerry Brown said.

Brown, a Democrat, said while the state's growing budget gap is "very difficult to figure out," one thing is for sure.

"The clear indication is people don't want any more taxes," Brown said in a speech this week in San Francisco to the civil defense bar.

Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger estimated Monday that the state's budget shortfall could grow to $14.5 billion by 2011 amid a steep fall in income tax revenues.

"There is lots of fighting and lots of irritation and lots of anger about how to deal with it," Brown said. "It is reflective of large trends that are somewhat disquieting. This is pressure on the budget is pretty unusual. We've had this before."

The difference this time: "It's more severe. The partisan quality is much sharper," Brown said.

While the governor introduces a budget blueprint each January, it is the state Legislature that takes the plan and tweaks it into a bill that passes both the state Assembly and Senate, and ultimately can get the governor's signature.

California's budget process has been particularly rancorous in recent years because the state has been hemorrhaging red ink.

Democrats, who control the Legislature, have insisted that cuts alone not be used to balance the budget, while most Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition to tax and fee hikes to help balance the books.

"The budget is quite a challenge. It is one reason why I have an 'exploratory campaign for governor' and not a 'campaign for governor,'" said Brown, who is considering a run for the post he held from 1975 to 1983.

Lawmakers and the governor made a round of deep cuts to balance the current year budget, which had a $24 billion shortfall. Many of the cuts, particularly to the state Department of Health Services, have been blocked while others are still threatened by litigation.

"The cuts didn't turn out to be cuts, either because they didn't materialize or the courts have reinstated them," Brown said.

Brown said the problem with the state's finances is that expenditures have exploded.

When he was governor three decades ago, Brown said the share of the general fund going to prisons and health care for the poor was much lower. He said state spending on corrections was about 3 percent of the general fund, compared to 10 percent today, while spending on Medi-Cal has more than doubled.

Brown's address to the 7th Annual General Counsel West Coast Convention on Wednesday came as he is mulls his political future. Brown told conference attendees that he is considering possible prescriptions to the state's ills before deciding whether he will run.

"How you resolve (issues) without more law and without more taxes and without more consensus is a real open question," Brown said of the many partisan disputes in Sacramento.

While Brown has not formally entered the gubernatorial race, he has formed an exploratory committee, allowing him to raise money for a potential bid.

Running for the GOP nomination to succeed Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is: former EBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman, former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

Schwarzenegger is unable to seek reelection because of term limits. Brown was governor before the term limits law was enacted, thus allowing him to run again.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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