Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
02/01/2015 12:01 AM

Although the state budget is finally balanced after years of deficits, polls tell us that most Californians are still concerned about the state’s fiscal stability.

Their concern is well-placed.

A temporary tax increase, mostly on the wealthy, and a recovering economy have provided the wherewithal to cover the state’s current obligations.

Gov. Jerry Brown, who championed the tax hike, has also restrained the ambitions of his fellow Democrats to spend more money and persuaded voters to create a rainy-day fund as a partial hedge against future downturns.

Nevertheless, the budget is “precariously balanced,” Brown reminds us, and is dangerously dependent on how wealthy taxpayers’ investments are faring – a peril echoed in a new Standard & Poor’s report on California last week.

While Californians’ budget concerns are justified, the same polls also reveal that very few voters know very much about its income and outgo or the causes of its endemic instability.

Jeff Cummins viewed the annual process of writing a state budget from the inside as a staffer in the legislative budget analyst’s office and the state auditor’s office. And when he was creating a course in public budgeting at Fresno State University, he found a dearth of material dealing with the state budget.

Cummins has filled the vacuum himself with a newly published book, “Boom and Bust: The Politics of the California Budget.” And while intended as a textbook, it would be valuable to anyone, especially voters who worry about the budget’s instability but don’t know much about it.

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