Dan Walters

 

By Dan Walters
Published: Wednesday, May. 16, 2012 – 12:00 am | Page 3A

Poker players often use the phrase “betting on the come” to describe a willingness, if instincts and odds indicate, to wager big on the hope that they will draw winning cards.

That’s a perfectly valid tactic when one is playing with one’s own money and therefore bearing the risk.

But is it appropriate for California politicians to bet on the come by approving many billions of dollars in spending on very shaky assumptions that the money will be there when it’s needed to pay the bills?

Risk was the underlying theme of two hearings in the Capitol on Tuesday.

One dealt with Gov. Jerry Brown’s newly revised budget, which assumes that voters will approve new taxes, and the other with the Brown-sponsored bullet train project, which assumes that the federal government will finance completion once it’s started.

Brown and his minions respond to doubts about those assumptions with assurances that if the taxes are not approved or the feds don’t provide bullet train money, they’ll have coping mechanisms that mitigate the risk.

He proposes “triggers” that would automatically cut spending if taxes are rejected, and to simply halt construction if the bullet train lacks financing. But those are fail-safe mechanisms only on paper, not in realpolitik terms.

Under Brown’s budget, the schools would suffer nearly all of the spending cuts were taxes to be rejected. He’s clearly doing that to push voters toward his tax plan, since schools are the single most popular category of state spending, but it’s very unclear that the very powerful education lobby and Democratic legislators would be willing to make that gamble.

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