Thursday, November 1, 2012

California holds education hostage

From the WSJ, November 1:

[California Governor Jerry] Brown and his labor allies say Proposition 30 will fix the state's budget deficit and ward off education cuts. But the real choice before voters is whether to issue Sacramento's incorrigible spendthrifts another blank check.

Mr. Brown has threatened to "trigger" $5.9 billion in education cuts if his initiative fails, but he'd make less than $100 million in other trims. How's that for balance?

Such "trigger cuts" could easily be re-configured with a modicum of political will in Sacramento. Instead of slashing $500 million from higher education, Democrats could kill their quixotic bullet train, which will cost about $360 million this year alone in debt service, and chop $100 million in tax credits to their Hollywood friends (who are bankrolling the tax campaign).

Or they could restructure retirement benefits, which cost $6.5 billion this year—up from about $1.4 billion in 1999. There's millions more to be found in modifying current workers' pensions and retirees' cost-of-living adjustments as nearly a dozen states have done. In Rhode Island such reforms have cut the state's pension liability by half.

Barring such reforms, pension costs will continue to balloon and eat up all new revenues. The California State Teachers' Retirement System has projected that it will need between $3.5 billion to $10 billion annually over the next 30 years to stay solvent. So any money allocated to schools will merely backfill the teachers' pension fund.

The only way California can escape its recurring fiscal Frankenstorms is through reform and economic growth. The former would stimulate the latter while the Governor's tax initiative would squelch both. Raising taxes on small business owners when one in five Californians is out of work or employed part-time because he can't find a full-time job is the definition of insanity.

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