Colorado inched closer toward fiscal sanity today.
Budget reform bill 228 passed the Senate this morning after roughly three hours of back and forth on the chamber floor, where GOP senators renewed the same objections they voiced to no effect during the vote held two weeks ago — objections that the bill is unconstitutional and will lead to greater taxes and big government, et cetera.
Today, though, the GOP refuseniks apparently agreed beforehand to hammer at one specific talking point. They took turns speechifying that 228 would turn Colorado into California by unleashing a mad spending spree on entitlements that would run up a crippling deficit.
California is a fantasy to the GOP senators, a cliche not of beaches and beauties but of irresponsible governance and a disgusting, perhaps contagious, generalized licentiousness. To those of us who have lived in the Golden State — the land of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan as well as of the Jerrys Brown and Garcia — the senators’ bogeyman California is a joke.
It might surprise them to learn, for instance, that the famous Austrian-born Republican governor of California does not think the Colorado of formulaic budget-spending limits is the model to follow if he is going to rescue his state. In fact, Schwarzenegger is now on a campaign to save California by trying to rid the state of the Colorado-style budget formulas that have dictated for decades how much California can spend and on what programs, formulas like Colorado’s Arveschoug-Bird provision that prevent saving and smart spending and reduce lawmaker accountability, formulas that put in place general fund caps that have removed flexibility to adapt to changing economic realities.
This morning Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said SB 228 would “throw the budget open to California-style train wrecks.”
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray — always Watson to anybody else’s Holmes — said SB 228 would “grow the entitlement side of government — that dependency side, that entitlement side that’s been kept in check … that is what has expanded in California. We cannot have that kind of fiscal train wreck in this state.”
By entitlements Brophy can only mean everything other than roads and capital construction that is financed through the state’s general fund, things like police and fire departments and job training programs and schools — things that have clearly grown and developed beyond all reason in California, as Brophy, who has spent so much time studying California’s school system, surely knows.
This is the release sent out by the Republican governor of California’s office in January, as the ridiculously failed California budget became national news:
STABILIZING CALIFORNIA’S BUDGET
California must reform how it budgets and spends taxpayer dollars. For a generation, the state’s budget has swung in and out of balance as a result of discrepancies between fluctuating tax revenues and auto-pilot spending. This system is not stable, responsible or in anyone’s best interest. Since taking office Governor Schwarzenegger has successfully spearheaded efforts to take budget-balancing ploys off the table and increase state savings.
* California’s budget problem is chronic, and driven by two factors:
1. The state historically spends all the money it takes in during years of high revenue growth, leading to unsustainable spending levels in the long run.
2. California has not slowed spending growth fast enough. Automatic formulas will increase spending in FY 2007-08 by 7.3 percent, unless we take action now. Each month California spends $600 million more than the state takes in.
* The majority of spending in the budget is set on auto-pilot. Currently about 90 percent of the budget is tied up with contracts and statutory requirements.
* This “feast-or-famine” cycle and automatic spending threatens the state’s long-term fiscal stability and leaves the most vulnerable residents victim to erratic, unpredictable assistance. Californians deserve better. Since the system itself is the problem, the system must be changed.
Can someone somehow project this release overhead in the House chamber as Colorado lawmakers arrive to debate SB 228? Hanging it there in the air wouldn’t prevent tired objections, of course, but it might help set apart the performance art from the policy making and take any annoying half-baked California references off the table.