CA Spends the Same for Cons and College Kids

Courtesy of the California Budget Project

Courtesy of the California Budget Project

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Bored? Learn something about how the state budget process works. The California Budget Project has made that easy by producing a guide to the process. 

Interesting facts: More than half of the state’s budget goes to health and human resources, but California spends nearly as much on higher education (7.8 percent) as it does on prisons and corrections (7.7 percent).

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  1. John

    Public safety is typically the number one item that the people want a government to provide and pay for. Even libertarian Tea Partiers typically concede that we have to pay for the military, the police, the border guard, the coastguard and the criminal justice system.

    If anything I am surprised how little the State spends on this versus some more touchy-feely welfare programs. But perhaps LE and justice spending is concentrated more at the federal and municipal levels?

    • Turns out right-wing rhetoricians consistently exaggerate the scale of social program spending, characterizing it as a major component of government expenditures– when the reality is nothing of the sort. Who’d have thought, eh?

      (Relatively low “safety net” spending is characteristic of the Federal budget as well; see Policy Basics: Where Do Our Federal Tax Dollars Go? for some pie charts. Nor is Federal spending on law enforcement and justice high enough to register; it’s buried somewhere in that 5% “All Other”.)

      • John

        The welfare figures don’t look too high as long as you exclude from welfare the unfunded entitlement programs. And the unfunded public-sector pension obligations.

        Still, hey, the Dow was up 292 today. Maybe the markets will bail us all out, right?

        • Jan

          John, you like many who decry social spending forget all the Corporate Welfare out there. Of course.

        • Indeed. It also turns out that if you don’t count gorillas as cats, most households do not have a pet gorilla.

          • John

            You cannot exclude healthcare and pensions from welfare and then credibly claim that we “don’t spend much on welfare”.

            But if you saying that the government spends so little that we can start cutting taxes, then bring it on.

          • A false equivalency, I fear.

            What you wrote was “unfunded entitlement programs’ and “unfunded public-sector pension obligations”; in the context of the Federal budget, these are Medicare and Social Security. Thing is, those are nationally administered insurance programs; they don’t result in direct grants based strictly on need. (Unlike the “safety net” spending– food stamps and such, where low income is the main criterion.)

            Nor should either you or I be worried about the scary-looking word “unfunded.” In this context– an insurance program, remember– “unfunded” merely means “Needs premium and/or benefits rates adjusted some time before 2033 or so.” For a moderate take on fairly painless ways to accomplish this: 5 Ways to Fix Social Security. Bonus: a right-wing yet nevertheless not insane suggestion: Want to Fix Social Security? Use the Right Wrench. (Medicare’s a little more complicated, because the Affordable Care Act is involved and we’re not sure whether elders’ life expectancy is going to drop as the result of the evolution of antibiotic-resistant infections or go up as the result of better access to preventive care– but the basic principle is the same.)

            And of course, I’d never say the the government doesn’t spend a lot. Federal spending is huge. Sadly, the lion’s share of the spending– both within and beyond the budgeted appropriations– is going to the military. Particularly during the prior administration, which kicked off two pointless, ineffective, and above all costly wars. Even TARP pales next to the war spending: $475 billion to keep Western capitalism from freezing solid after the 2008 crash, versus around $3 trillion through 2013 for the wars. (From Economic Cost Summary | Costs of War. And of course, we’ve since gotten back most albeit not all of the TARP outlays– pleasantly surprising me, at least.)

            As a fiscal conservative, it’s not the spending of money that annoys me so much as the spending of money on things with such poor returns…

          • John

            Then you missed my point, Stephan. The public generally are happy with spending on “safety”. That includes the military as well as criminal justice and all forms of law enforcement.

            It’s the welfare/entitlement boondoggle that gets people mad as hell. And your attempt at dismissing social security and medicare as insurance contracts fools nobody because the premia paid do not sustain those programs which will drain the general fund just as massively as MediCaid already does.

            That’s why all serious politicians are not focused on deficit reduction, even if you wish to carry on with your pollyanna version.

            I’d be perfectly happy if public safety was the ONLY thing the government did, which was pretty much the case when this nation was formed and before we became like the European nations that we struggled to leave.

          • I have more good news for you: you have been misinformed on the point that shortfalls in Social Security have the potential to come out of the general fund. You’re not alone, of course; it’s a common enough belief that the Social Security Administration has put together a FAQ. It’s in two parts: Debunking Some Internet Myths, and Debunking Some Internet Myths- Part 2. It’s a little dense, because the legal details are serious policy wonk stuff, but it’s a good starting point.

            Things aren’t as clean with Medicare, but it is still an insurance program mostly funded via a 2.9% payroll tax. Again, the number might have to be changed if life expectancy goes up a lot– but it might be OVERfunded if life expectancy drops. We don’t know which way it’s going to break yet– and anyone who says they know for sure is either oversimplifying, or doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

            Medicad is not an insurance program, and it is coming out of the general fund– but it’s small, and is split between the Feds and the states. On the federal level, it’s part of that 12% “safety net” spending. More concretely, Kaiser put it at $431 billion for 2012. The Feds are on the hook for about half that, the Feds spent about $3538 billion total in 2012, so Medicaid spending is about 6.0%.

            And amusingly, it turns out that Reinhart and Rogoff, the study that all the folks on the right have been citing to justify austerity measures that cut deficits at all costs, got its arithmetic wrong because Reinhart and Rogoff couldn’t operate a spreadsheet program correctly: FAQ: Reinhart, Rogoff, and the Excel Error That Changed History. Hence, those of the fiscal conservative politicians who know economics from a hole in the ground have stopped freaking out about deficits– particularly while we’re still refinancing the national debt at interest rates below inflation.

            Rejoice! Things are not so bad as you have been told. Does this not make you happy?

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