Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
June 16, 2016 – 3:51 PM

  • Budget total remained same, despite new spending
  • Shift to bonds for jails lubricated negotiations
  • Borrowing undercuts Brown’s stance on debt

The state budget that’s sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk – $122 billion in general fund spending – is almost exactly the dimensions of what he had proposed in January and revised slightly in May.

Yet, Democratic legislators are claiming victories in persuading Brown to spend several hundred million more dollars, principally on welfare – by granting some cost-of-living raises and removing the “maximum family grant” – and on early childhood education.

So how, one might wonder, could the spending be hiked for those and other categories while the overall budget remained virtually unchanged? Did Brown and legislative leaders cut back on other spending?

Not really. The biggest reason they could spend more is that they did something that Brown has devoted his entire second governorship to opposing. They borrowed the money and added to an already huge debt load.

They didn’t do it directly, of course. The voting public would have frowned on going into debt to lift the two-decade old ban on providing welfare grants to children conceived while their mothers are receiving aid, which is what the maximum family grant issue is all about.

They did it indirectly, through fiscal sleight of hand, which takes a little explaining.

Brown’s January and May budgets proposed that the state provide $250 million in general fund appropriations to help counties build and improve their jails, which have been under terrific strain as the state reduced its prison population.

In previous years, the state had provided $2.2 billion for local jails through a bit of financial trickery called “lease-revenue bonds,” which it also has used to build prisons.

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