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California Gov. Jerry Brown talks about revisions to his budget, specifically related to his projected increase in spending on health care and teacher pensions, during a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Sacramento, Calif. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Comments from Sacramento this past week indicate that state lawmakers still don't understand the notion of fiscal discipline.

Gov. Jerry Brown correctly says that while his spending plan is better than those of past years this is no time to break out the champagne and open up the checkbook for new programs.

But then he undermines his position by insisting the state fund his financially unworkable high-speed rail plan, and even raid $250 million this year from the state's greenhouse gas reduction program to cover the cost.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacrmento, who doesn't seem to appreciate how tenuous the state budget forecast remains, wants to ratchet up spending for a long list of deserving social programs.

To get his way, he's willing to hold the governor's choo-choo funding hostage. "We're going to have to see some movement for us to continue to make this (high-speed rail) a priority this year," Steinberg said.

They're both wrong.

Brown's insistence that we continue funding the bullet train has reached absurd levels. It won't deliver the service voters were promised, it will cost more and the private funding has never materialized.

Steinberg, on the other hand, has priorities that would deserve more money if it were available. Among them, early childhood education, especially for those from needy families; restoration of money cut from higher education; funding courts at a level that returns them to full functionality.


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But this is no time to increase spending. The only thing enabling Brown and Steinberg to claim a balanced budget is revenue from temporary sales and income tax increases approved by voters in 2012.

Voters were promised these would be temporary increases, that Brown only needed bridge financing to buy time so he could right the state's finances. The taxes are scheduled to phase out by 2018-19. And then the state will once again be in serious financial trouble.

Then there's the dirty little secret no Democrat in Sacramento will admit: The budget isn't really balanced now. As the state legislative analyst points out, the state has $200 billion of debt that hasn't been addressed. Much of it is unfunded pension and retiree health obligations.

Brown last week unveiled his plan for dealing with one component, $74 billion of unfunded debt to the teachers' retirement system. Brown's plan, while better than nothing, still irresponsibly stretches repayment over 32 years, reducing installments we should be making now.

In other words, the budget ignores bills already past due while lawmakers talk about taking on more financial obligations. That's no way to run the state.