Jerry Brown's entire governorship is based on a false choice: higher taxes or fewer government services. A scandal in the parks department, however, highlights the problems he faces as he asks Californians to "temporarily" raise sales and income taxes in the Prop. 30 initiative in November. In my column last week for Bloomberg, I explain that a surreptitious plan by state employees to grant themselves vacation buyouts led to the realization that parks officials had hidden $54 million in parks money in two accounts even as they were planning to shutter 70 parks following $22 million in proposed cuts.
Even that notion -- cutting parks to save the 22 million -- was a sham as private foundations and even local governments stepped to the plate to keep most of the parks open. This is the problem with government. It has no customers. It cannot be efficient. Only when budgets are actually cut will people find extra dollars and come up with alternatives. That's a good argument for saying no to higher taxes. The scandal hurt Brown's political campaign, as he was using parks cuts to illustrate the need for higher taxes. So he hobbled together pension reform to prove he is serious about reform. If we give Brown his wish, it won't be long before we will be in the same situation again. As the Sacramento Bee's Dan Walters has noted, California state government overspends its budget in good times and bad times.