Since the time before fiscal cliffs, government shutdowns and sequestration, budget analysts have been telling Washington politicians that the only way out of our country's budgetary mess is a combination of spending cuts and higher taxes. And the burden must be shared equally among all segments of the population so that we can all prosper at the end of this long, dark economic tunnel.
So far, however, those recommendations seem to be falling on deaf ears as political gridlock, brinkmanship and self-interest continue to poison any hope of progress and much-needed compromise in Congress. Perhaps they will listen to someone who has proven that a combination of fiscal restraint and big-government ambition for education, health care and environmental policies actually can work.
California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who will speak at a conference hosted by the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, has said in recent months that he wants to advocate for immigration and environmental policy changes on a national stage, but his remarks Thursday are expected to be focused more on budgeting.
"He's been asked to speak about how California is tackling its fiscal challenges and getting things done, at a time when gridlock and partisanship dominate national politics," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup told the Sacramento Bee earlier this week.
The September issue of Rolling Stone magazine features an in-depth article on how Brown was able to reverse California's downward spiral -- double-digit unemployment, a $26 billion deficit and an accumulated "wall of debt" topping $35 billion -- since he took office in 2011.
"California was a punch line for Republican politicos -- a cautionary tale, they said, of the fate that awaits the nation should it embrace Left Coast-style economic, social and environmental liberalism," Rolling Stone wrote.
Ironically, though, the magazine notes that California's finances have been out of whack since the late 1970s, when right-wing, anti-tax activists passed a constitutional cap on property taxes that also requires a two-thirds supermajority vote to raise any tax through the state legislature. Moreover, it was a Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who hastened the recent fiscal calamity by slashing California's vehicle license fee. That one move blew a $4 billion annual hole in the budget that Schwarzenegger simply papered over with bond debt.
When the Great Recession struck and the state's credit rating collapsed, California was in a bind: Its budget shortfall was too massive to resolve with cuts alone. But the state's intransigent minority of Republican lawmakers refused to raise revenues.
But with a stiff cocktail of budget cuts and hard-won new taxes, Brown has not only zeroed out the deficit, he's also begun paying down the debt. And despite the warnings of right-wing ideologues, higher taxes on the wealthy have not sent millionaires running for the borders or crippled California's "job creators." In fact, according to Rolling Stone, the Silicon Valley economy is roaring, driving 3.5 percent growth statewide; California's jobless rate has tumbled to 8.7 percent, the lowest since 2008; and the housing market is on a tear. Entrepreneurs are doing so well, in fact, that state coffers got an unexpected bump this spring, thanks to a windfall of $4.5 billion, largely from capital gains.
Having waged and won his 2012 ballot initiatives by focusing on education funding, Brown is now transforming how that money gets spent. The governor's new budget begins by restoring school districts to their pre-recession funding. But it targets additional spending for districts with high concentrations of at-risk learners.
"Jerry Brown's leadership is a rebuttal to the failed policies of Republicans in Washington," Neera Taden, president of the Center for American Progress, told Rolling Stone. "California is proving you can have sane tax systems, raise revenues, eliminate structural deficits and have economic growth."
At the same time, you can also pursue bold, liberal programs aimed at improving education and health care, combat the devastating effects of climate change and address any other social issues that may arise.