The California Budget

Governor Brown’s budget increases education spending (K-12 and higher education both) by less than two percent, (less than half what he proposes to dump into the prison-industrial corrections enterprise) after decades of starving them, but socks two billion into the rainy day fund under the mattress.  Saving for bad times is good, but so is saving in order to have better good times and bad times both, and the governor appears not to understand what a golden investment the capacity of California citizens to create value is.  I don’t like household analogies in public policy, but his “prudence” is like not buying tires so you’ll have more money to buy a new car when you total this one hydroplaning on the interstate.

Before I go on: I’m at the end of my career as a Berkeley prof, just as Brown is at the end of his career as a public official; not much about this issue really affects me assuming the retirement program doesn’t collapse.  My kids are educated and on their own.  This is about a future neither Brown nor I will figure in, but what decent people should properly count heavily: what kind of world they are leaving behind.

A rainy day fund is a bag of golden eggs you can draw on for emergencies: when you take one out, it’s gone. An educated, capable, responsible population is the goose that lays those eggs, and what that goose lives on is education (at every level) and research.  Brown is worried about hard times ahead; OK, what do global warming and continued drought mean for agriculture? No state spending will change the weather, but UC Davis profs and alums are the people who  will figure out how to deal with it. That’s where centuries of old wives’ tales and mythology were swept aside to make our incredibly successful wine industry. I don’t know exactly what they are cooking up now, but I know it’s suicidal to make them do less of it.

Maybe we’re looking at a tech bust, but there won’t be another boom, and the bottom will be much deeper, if our schools and universities don’t expand the factory  (trained minds) that puts out all that tech.  A big earthquake is already teed up, those plates are always on the move. Think a 7.0 on either fault  will put a big dent in the state’s economy?  Well, the dent will be a lot smaller if the early-warning system UC profs are developing is ready for it.

Entertainment is one of our major industries and no, artists (not to mention CGI wonks) don’t just pop onto the screen from the cosmetics aisle at the mall.  They are made in schools…or not. Right, lots of creative, competent people come to California from somewhere else.  More of them will do so if they know their kids will get a good education. 

Governor (and legislators): the way to save for a rainy day is  to make more people who will make more, better, stuff (physical and otherwise) cheaper. Schools, colleges, and universities are where that happens, and at least half of those $2b in golden eggs should be feeding the goose, not socked away doing nothing.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.