One of the most entertaining things about the state fiscal crisis is that the longer it goes on, the more clear it becomes how useless state governments are. As California's walking wounded wander the wasteland and resort to cannibalism in the wake of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed "austerity" budget, the Sacramento Bee attempts to lay out how the damage will impact each and every state resident.
If you're worried that the Golden State might have to axe such essential services as the boards of chiropractory and horse racing, or even reduce spending on the second-worst public schools in America, the Bee explains that the almost-balanced budget is not just more terrible than you imagined but more terrible than you can imagine.
First they came for the community college students, and I did not complain because I already had my associate's degree and had used it to score seasonal employment as a department store Christmas elf. Under Edmund G. "Jerry" Borgia's plan, community college scholars will have to pay another $10 per unit. Full-time students will have to sell their own organs in order to afford a tuition burden that could reach as high as $1,080 a year.
Then they came for the people who want to make more than 10 free doctor visits a year and get more than six free prescription refills a month, and I did not complain because I figured by dropping out of community college I could use the $10 in savings to afford two of the draconian $5 co-pays Brown's plan would require.
But who will speak up for the least popular of the state's 278 parks? Here's what the Nero of Sacramento has in store for the park system, according to his budget summary:
A decrease of $11.0 million in 2011?12 which will result in partially or fully closing some state park units and reducing expenditures at the Department's headquarters. The plan, when completed, will minimize the impact on attendance by partially closing state parks during weekdays and off?peak seasons and closing other parks with the lowest attendance and revenue generation.
Let 'em eat cake, Jerry!
It's a little hard to figure out just what those least-attended parks are, given that in the most recent (2008) statistical report [pdf], the California Department of Parks and Recreation lists many sites as having zero annual attendance.
Presuming that these are closed sites or preserves not designed for human visitation, we can still find quite a few forlorn destinations. A mere 4,039 people per year turn out for the "spring wildflowers" and "scenic vistas" of Pacheco State Park near Los Banos. But are there really only 557 Kawaiisu buffs willing to make the trek to the Tomo-Kahni historic village in Tehachapi? ("The moderately strenuous walking tour takes between two to three hours to complete.") And is the blood of my fellow Californians so tired that a mere 2,149 of us can show up to see Don Andrés Pico hand Stephen W. Kearny his ass at the San Pasqual Battlefield re-enactment? Wouldn't a better understanding of this none-too-important military engagement shed light on why San Francisco's Kearny Street and L.A.'s Pico Boulevard are two of the crappiest streets in their respective burgs?
Weep not for the prison guards, lawyers and engineers who would face a 10 percent pay cut (and possibly even give up their taxpayer-funded cell phones) under Brown's plan. Instead be grateful that the Bee, which always sees the wisdom in a tax hike, included "taxpayers" among the injured parties under Brown's plan, which would maintain a 0.25 percent "surcharge on their income tax" (which for some reason is not the same as a 0.25 percent income tax increase). A quarter-percent tax increase may seem small, especially when history has shown that tax hikes are always used to close the deficit and never get spent on some new useless program. But this is where all the laughter dies in sorrow. If California is going to thrive again, the tax burden doesn't just need to stop increasing. It needs to start shrinking, and soon.
But there's still hope: The budgets for the chiropractic and horse racing boards will both increase under the Brown budget. That's two reasons to quack and whinny, respectively, with relief.
Remind yourself why the parks don't need all the taxpayer funding with this Reason TV report on the mercifully defeated Prop 21: