Dan Walters: Jerry Brown wins point on budget deficit, but 'wall of debt' looms

dwalters@sacbee.comJanuary 1, 2013 

Dan Walters

Fox News is the media outlet that Democrats love to hate, often calling it "Faux News."

When the television network's website published an article that referred to a $28 billion California budget deficit, therefore, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's press secretary, Gil Duran, erupted in righteous fury.

Duran fired off an email to the network, complaining that the article contained "some major and obvious errors."

"First, the story states that California has a $28 billion deficit," Duran wrote. "This is completely false and is already being mocked by California reporters on Twitter. Please correct the record immediately.

"The story also makes misleading claims about Proposition 30. Specifically, the story says that 'families making over $250,000' will have their income taxes increased. But for families that file jointly, there would be no tax increase unless they made $500,000.

"In general, the article simply rehashes arguments from obscure columnists whose opinions are contradicted by all available data. But these two major errors merit immediate correction."

When Fox didn't respond, Duran sent another sharply worded demand and also complained to Jim Romen- esko, who writes a widely read blog on media issues.

Six days after the article was published, Fox corrected the error about the tax bite and changed the $28 billion figure to $1.9 billion, reflecting a recent report from the Legislature's budget analyst.

It was a tactical win for the pugnacious Duran. But in the larger sense, the "corrections" are more misleading than the first article.

In fact, one could argue that the $28 billion figure is closer to the state's true condition, as Brown himself has often pointed out.

Over the last half-decade, covering the last years of Arnold Schwarzenegger's governorship and the first two years of Brown's, the state has amassed $30-plus billion in budget deficits – a number Brown calls a "wall of debt."

Those deficits have been covered in a variety of ways, including loans from bankers, loans from special funds, deferrals of school payments, and raids on local government funds.

The temporary tax increase that voters approved in November will generate perhaps $50 billion between now and 2019.

Much of the money will automatically flow to schools while Brown wants to devote most of the remainder to tearing down that debt wall – which may lead to conflicts with Democratic legislators.

Barring some unanticipated economic boom, their choice will be between paying down debt, much of it also owed to schools, or restoring the health and welfare services and higher education support that have been cut in recent years to narrow the state's deficits.

Even Duran could not complain had Fox News explained the deficit that way.

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