Golden State in the Black

Those who make a living comparing California to Greece as a hellish socialist cesspool of debt will have to work a little harder to make their case. As reported by the New York Times‘ Adam Nagourney, Gov. Jerry Brown was able to report an extraordinary development when he unveiled his budget for FY 2013-14:

“The deficit is gone,” Mr. Brown proclaimed, standing in front of an array of that-was-then and this-is-now charts that illustrated what he said were dramatic changes in California’s fortunes.

“For the next four years we are talking about a balanced budget,” he said. “We are talking about living within our means. This is new. This is a breakthrough.”

Mr. Brown was not just talking about a balanced budget. He projected that the state would begin posting surpluses starting next year, leading to a projected surplus of $21.5 million by 2014, a dramatic turnaround from the deficit of $26 billion — billion, not million — he faced when he was elected in 2010.

The governor said California’s finances were strong enough that he wanted to put aside a $1 billion reserve fund to guard against future downturns, and included in the budget sharp increases in aid to public schools and the state university system, both targets of big spending cutbacks.

The change in fortunes reflected cuts that were imposed over the past two years, a temporary tax surcharge approved by voters in November that expires in seven years, and a general improvement in the state’s economy.

Yes, skeptics grumbled over Brown’s numbers, but even less optimistic analyses concluded that the budget is in near-balance after years of big deficits and chronic budget crises. And if Brown turns out to be right, the state would be able to begin socking away money to hedge against a future economic downturn.

Brown seemed to have an eye on Victor Davis Hanson and Joel Kotkin in uttering these lines:

Mr. Brown, in presenting his budget, suggested that the turnaround should be a rebuke to “a couple of characters” who have “written off California as a failed state,” a reference to conservative commentators who have, for a year, questioned the state’s economic policies and its very future.

Ah, never fear. Conservative Cassandras have already decided to predict the new taxes imposed by voters will produce an exodus of jobs and capital to more enlightened states like Texas and Mississippi.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.