Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
November 20, 2016 2:44 PM

California’s gubernatorial transitions have included a less-than-stellar tradition in recent decades – outgoing governors leaving budget deficits to successors.

The current governor, Jerry Brown, started the syndrome in 1983 when he departed after his first gubernatorial stint and left a $1.5 billion budget hole – big money in those days – for Republican George Deukmejian.

The state had shouldered burdens for schools and local governments after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, but simultaneously, Brown and legislators cut income taxes to comport with voters’ anti-tax mood, creating operational deficits that had exhausted reserves by 1983.

Eventually, after weeks of wrangling, the budget’s hole was filled with short-range borrowing, spending cuts and some revenue increases that Deukmejian insisted were not taxes, but were.

The tradition continued when Deukmejian willed a deficit to Republican Pete Wilson, leading to more spending cuts and taxes. But eight years later, Wilson became the only recent governor to leave a balanced budget to his successor, Democrat Gray Davis.

Davis was recalled by voters in 2003, in part because of his mishandling of state finances, digging a fiscal hole that a tax cut by his successor, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, plus a deep recession, made even deeper. Thus, when Brown returned to the Capitol in 2011, he faced a huge deficit and vowed to fix the state’s chronic budget problems.

Now that Brown 2.0 is drawing to a close, one might wonder whether he has broken the cycle. The answer is yes – and no.

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