Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
Published: Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

The California Legislature has a bad habit of making sweeping decisions in the moment without giving much thought to their long-term consequences.

The syndrome’s most striking example was an immense overhaul in 1996 of the state’s electric power system, misnamed “deregulation,” based on blithe, untested assertions that it would lower power bills.

Within a few years, it proved to have exactly the opposite effect, driving utilities to insolvency and raising power bills for years, if not decades.

Just a year after it issued the energy decree, the Legislature decided that the state should take over financing of the California courts, the largest judicial system in the nation. At the time, state revenues were strong, and it was touted as a way of easing a major financial burden on counties.

But like so many of the Legislature’s fiscal decisions, it has turned into a disaster.

The courts became, in effect, just another state agency. As the budget began leaking red ink, politicians saw the courts as something to whack because they lacked the legal protections and political clout of categories such as K-12 education.

Over the past four years, state support for courts has been cut by $653 million, according to a new report from the Legislature’s budget analyst. That’s been offset somewhat with fiscal gimmicks, such as tapping into courthouse construction funds. Gov. Jerry Brown proposes another $350 million cut in his 2012-13 budget.

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