This is, to a degree, perpetuating a mythology.
Arnie was a bad actor and worse governor, but Jerry is a true showman. Here are some facts to chew on (from the Union Tribune June 1):
"There is a basic problem with recent news accounts and analyses that note the gains in state tax revenues and conclude California is back on firm ground financially. The claim is just not true. And itâ??s a myth that will promote new rounds of irresponsibility and denial in Sacramento.
Yes, the Legislative Analystâ??s Office says revenue is running $3.2 billion higher than expected for this fiscal year. Yes, a likely result is that schools will get more money, some state services may be restored and perhaps the wave of tuition hikes at state colleges will stop.
But California is far from being in good fiscal health. When Gov. Jerry Brown talks about reducing the â??wall of debtâ?? he inherited upon taking office three years ago, he leaves out huge problems â?? problems that Sacramento has either not addressed or barely addressed:
â?¢ $87 billion in unfunded liabilities for the California Public Employeesâ?? Retirement System. The $87 billion would be far higher if not for the rosy investment assumptions used by CalPERS.
â?¢ $73 billion in unfunded liabilities for the California State Teachersâ?? Retirement System, a sum that increases a staggering $6 billion a year. The $73 billion would be far higher if not for the rosy investment assumptions by CalSTRS.
â?¢ $64 billion in unfunded liabilities for health insurance coverage guaranteed to retired employees.
â?¢ $8.2 billion in money borrowed from the federal government to replenish the stateâ??s broke unemployment compensation fund. California only pays the interest on the debt.
This list could be longer. There are other substantial debts and liabilities. And there are extremely costly future financial obligations, starting with the state bill for Obamacare after initial federal subsidies are phased out and regulatory edicts on water pollution.
But our point is plain. The state of California is awash in red ink, and even the red ink that is acknowledged is camouflaged with accounting gimmicks.
This ugly picture is why the governor is right to push back at Democratic lawmakers who want to spend any unexpected revenue instead of putting it in reserve. This ugly picture is why the governor is wrong to offer happy talk and go along with media analyses that depict California as on the right track.
We wonâ??t be on the right track without much more sweeping pension reform to contain the coming calamities at CalPERS and CalSTRS. We wonâ??t be on the right track until someone offers up a realistic plan to pay for the health coverage of retired public employees. And we wonâ??t be on the right track unless we have a sustained growth in revenue driven by a broadly healthy private-sector economy, not by bubbles in real estate or technology.
This is what Jerry Brown should be telling the public instead of taking victory laps for a victory that doesnâ??t exist."