In a reminder of the boom years of the late 1990s, California's fiscal picture brightened in the first few months of 2013, leaving the state unexpectedly flush with cash. But when Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his revised budget proposal Tuesday for fiscal 2013-14, he did something much more reminiscent of the "era of limits" in the 1970s: He laid out a cautious and moderate course. Specifically, he called on the Legislature to increase spending by less than 1% while doubling the amount held in reserve.
His comments echo those made by other top Democrats. Assembly Speaker John John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) has called for the state to put excess capital gains receipts into a rainy-day fund rather than spending it, a prudent step to smooth the ups and downs of volatile state revenue. And Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has proposed that the state dedicate two-thirds of any surplus revenue to building reserves and paying down debt, although he wanted to spend more than Brown proposed.
Brown's restraint may disappoint those who hoped that the tax increases approved by voters last November would allow the state to roll back the clock to pre-recessionary times and restore the billions of dollars cut from important social programs. We too would like to repair the state's tattered safety net, undo damaging cuts to the courts and reverse other belt-tightening steps that will only hurt Californians in the long run. But now is not the time.