Closing the $15 billion gap: Let’s get fiscal
It’s difficult to describe a $15 billion shortfall as a “fiscal gap.” That’s like calling Osama bin Laden a punk.
But there it was, smack on the front page of the Sacramento Bee last week. “State’s fiscal gap widens,” screamed the headline, above mug shots of a very bewildered-looking Gov. Gray Davis and an equally dumbfounded-looking state legislative analyst.
Dumbfounded and bewildered are not real assets when you’re tackling something as important as a fiscal gap. Especially when that gap is $15,000,000,000 wide. That’s more zeros than you’d find at a local dive.
Speaking from experience, there are only a couple of ways to close a fiscal gap. Last time I was faced with one, for example, my wife cut my gambling expense account. It was a 3-1 vote. I petitioned for a reduction in school lunches instead and lost. My kids successfully argued that they need lunch to get through the school day. Crybabies.
You could also close a fiscal gap by finding more fiscal. That’s English for money. It comes from the Latin term fiscal, or fis-cal (Fish California).
Many politicians confuse that with the term physical . I knew a city councilman once who used to say it was the city’s job to be “physically responsible.” He weighed 400 pounds and owned an A&W Root Beer stand, so he must have meant “fiscally responsible.”
Anyway … in order to close this particular gap, the state is considering, at least according to the Bee article, “suspending awards to schools that improve test scores, boosting some student fees at public universities, axing Medi-Cal services and letting nonviolent criminals our of prison earlier …”
The state may also consider eliminating a state holiday.
Let’s examine those options a bit.
“Suspending awards to schools that improve test scores …” I thought most of us wanted improved test scores. And while I’d argue that we ought to expect higher test scores for the money we already spend on schools, it’s great to have a little added incentive.
“Boosting some student fees at public universities …” Not until they boost the work ethic of many of those employed by public universities. It wouldn’t hurt, for example, to require professors to spend at least one day a week actually inside a classroom.
“Axing Medi-Cal services …” Easy for them to say. Most bureaucrats enjoy a medical benefit plan that covers anything from nosebleeds to sex changes.
“Letting nonviolent criminals out of prison earlier …” Let’s see … would child molesters qualify? How about guys who sell crack to schoolkids? Or, maybe they just mean people who simply like to hold up liquor stores, but never actually pull the trigger.
“Eliminate a state holiday … ” Christmas would be good. It seems our lawmakers have been giving more than they have been receiving, and it probably wouldn’t hurt if they skipped Christmas this year. No way I’m I voting for Easter. I know how we love our bunnies in California. I could, however, be convinced to eliminate Presidents’ Day Weekend. Lincoln would have been the first to let us skip his birthday party if it meant helping close a $15 billion fiscal gap. That would still leave state employees with 32 paid holidays, not counting Groundhog Day, or National Refrigerator Week.
Curiously, there was no mention of shutting down the California Legislature for a few months. I’m telling you from experience that we don’t need full-time lawmakers. Imagine how much we could save if we simply sent everyone home.
“Okay … it’s like this, guys … you spent all our money and we’re not giving you any more for six months. So you may as well all go on home until this fiscal gap problem blows over.”
“What about our constituents?” they’ll argue. “Who will watch out for them?”
“I checked with them and they said it was okay. They said they’d call if they needed anything.”
Worst case, they couldn’t pass any more bills that would cost us money we don’t have, which would at least keep the fiscal gap from sprouting more zeros.
The longer those guys stay in Sacramento, the more likely they’ll start looking at your hard-earned fiscal. I don’t know about you, but I hardly have enough fiscal left to pay my power bill.
Talk about your fiscal gaps …
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesday.
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