At any rate, here's the opening paragraph of my book, which will hit stands later this year:
In the summer of 2003, as California’s state legislators attempted to close a $38 billion deficit in a $100 billion budget, the parties stayed about as ideologically distant from each other as possible. Democrats wanted only modest cuts in services, but higher income taxes on the wealthy, a tripling of the car registration fee, and a hike in the state sales tax, which, at 7.25 percent, was already the highest in the nation. Republicans, for their part, opposed any new taxes, and not a few wanted tax cuts. To close the budget deficit, they called for massive cuts in spending, including eliminating the Seismic Safety Commission, a subsidy to poor blind people to feed their seeing-eye dogs, and public payments for the burial of dead foster children. It seemed unlikely that the Democrats would get the tax hikes they sought (particularly with the Democratic governor facing a Republican-led recall), and even less likely that the budget could be balanced by starving seeing-eye dogs or leaving dead foster children unburied. Yet the lines were thusly drawn, and they held.I post this paragraph not to boost book sales (although feel free!) but more to illustrate that California's current crisis is hardly a new one. The state goes through some variation of this crisis pretty much every year, but it's particularly acute during economic downturns. Yes, this one seems particularly bad, but the problem isn't new.
As many others have noted, this is due to a toxic combination of several factors, notably intense partisanship, a two-thirds requirement for budget passage, a reliance on progressive income taxes which prove tepid during recessions, and a series of constitutional amendments that have put much of the budget in the non-discretionary category. Democrats have usually controlled the legislature in the past half-century, but almost never with two-thirds of the chamber. Budget passage requires some Republicans to compromise (i.e.: vote to raise taxes), which they have no electoral incentive to do and considerable incentive to avoid. So the legislature usually comes up with something that involves not raising taxes to pay for the social programs the constitution requires them to pay for, instead kicking the costs down the road a bit in some sort of bond measure. This gets more expensive over time.