The Lessons of the Californiapocalypse

California lawmakers and the governor have agreed on a budget that would close the state's $26 billion deficit. Voters recently rejected a budget plan that required tax increases, and so the budget in Sacramento's hands heavily focuses on the other end of tax/spend spectrum. Spending will be slashed across the state, and the cuts will be most painful for social services affecting children and the poor, and statewide education. Are there other places California could have cut some fat? Well, Conor Friedersdorf might say, that's a bit like asking Jabba the Hutt if there there are places besides his chin where he might benefit from losing some weight.

California is a spending beast, and Friedersdorf has some additional ideas for limiting the burden:

Pension obligations could be radically reduced by changing the formula that allows all public safety employees, broadly construed, to receive 90 percent of their salary for life upon retirement. 

State prison costs would decrease if the state decriminalized drug possession and stopped prostrating itself before the prison guard union. 

School reform could cut administrative costs higher than in most states without affecting money being spent in the classroom -- for example, by reversing a state of affairs where school districts pay problem teachers millions of dollars to stay out of the classroom, for starters. 

Repeat offenders would decrease if the state identified illegal immigrants in its jails and ensured their deportation at the conclusion of their sentence, rather than releasing them back into the populace. 

A state in need of revenue might reconsider workers' compensation laws that are among the costliest in the nation for taxpayers and businesses -- and a business climate that is generally less friendly than that of its neighbors, so that tax generating enterprises stop relocating elsewhere.  

Democracy in America, a blog with the Economist, has an interesting post about California as a rorschach test. Conservatives look at the state and say, "This is what happens when we offer luxurious services that we'll never afford." Liberals instead see millions of children losing health care benefits in the wake of budget cuts and think, "This is why we have to mandate universal coverage as soon as possible." 

In the case of California, the first argument seems more convincing. California's government knew their tax base was limited and they still built upon it a wobbly, unwieldy apparatus of government spending. And it fell. And kids' health insurance got trapped under it. Isn't the first lesson here obviously: Pay for what you build?