By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com The Sacramento Bee
Published: Sunday, Sep. 19, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Sunday, Sep. 19, 2010 – 9:51 am

The longer California’s state budget stalemate continues – and it’s now in record territory – the more likely it becomes that whenever it ends, it will be with another mélange of pie-in-the-sky assumptions, expedient spending deferrals and accounting gimmicks that crumbles in the cold light of reality.

Cynicism? No – realism based on long experience.

Writing a state budget began evolving from a relatively straightforward, albeit political, process into a hide-the-pea con game a couple of decades ago.

Initially, the rationalization for gimmickry was that economic conditions were temporary, so expedient solutions were justified to minimize service impacts.

Human nature being what it is, however, taking the politically easy way out became a habit, even when the economy was vigorous and revenues were gushing.

Permanent spending commitments were made on short-term bursts of revenues, making the inevitable crashes even worse. Capitol politicians of both parties devised increasingly outlandish gimmicks to avoid the tough choices of real spending cuts and/or real tax increases.

There are precious few term-limited legislators who can even remember the last time the state had an honestly balanced budget with a decent reserve.

Each year, no matter how long it takes, they kid themselves into believing that if they can just devise enough gimmicks and get through one more year, the economy will recover and resolve their dilemma.

As the current recession lingers without overt signs of recovery, however, that delusion becomes an ever-thinner excuse for not spending what they can afford, or paying for what they spend. From all accounts, California will be feeling economic pain for years to come, perhaps even semi-permanently.

Among economists who study California, UCLA’s Anderson Forecast has been among the most optimistic about recovery prospects. But the quarterly report it issued last week had a decidedly melancholic air, seeing double-digit unemployment for at least two more years.

Recession has already expanded unemployment rolls by well over a million workers, not counting those downsized into lower-paying or part-time jobs or who have given up looking for work. While employment is growing slowly in the nation as a whole, it’s still shrinking in California.

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