State's Budget No Role Model

Publication: Los Angeles Times

Author: Evan Halper

07/07/2008 - As Californians brace for big reductions in government services, the possibility of tax hikes and a long summer of budget bickering, they may be under the impression that everyone else is slogging through the same financial misery.

Not so.

Although the nation's sluggish economy and mortgage crisis have put the squeeze on a number of states, many are humming along fine, without dramatic measures to keep them in the black. Some even have multibillion-dollar surpluses. And almost none of the states that do have fiscal difficulties face shortfalls on the scale of California's.

Analysts say the state's troubles stem largely from its budget system -- the most dysfunctional in the country -- and they look to California as an example of how not to do things. In a recent ranking of state policies by the Pew Center on the States, California scored D+ on fiscal management. The average grade was B-.

Neal Johnson, director of the government performance project at the Pew Center on the States, said other places look carefully at how well government programs are meeting their objectives when deciding how much cash to provide them. Agency heads must show results, inefficiencies are rooted out, management techniques that have proved effective in the private sector are encouraged.

But such an approach "has not gained traction in California the way it has in other states," Johnson said.

To read the rest of "State's Budget No Role Model," see the Los Angeles Times.

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