THROUGH THE FIRE: Balancing the Budget

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SOONG, JOEBy Joe Soong
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I know of someone who had a gambling addiction. He could not control himself, making losing bet after losing bet, until he finally lost his business and his home, and caused tremendous hardship for his wife and two daughters

California’s current budget woes remind me of that hopeless situation. Our state believed it was on a hot streak at the poker tables. Every hand was a full house, flush, or four of a kind. Property values were shooting upwards, the stock market was reaching new highs, and credit was easy.

As a result, revenues were pouring into the state treasury. So California politicians spent big, betting that the good times would last. Unfortunately, as in all forms of gambling, the hot streak came to an end. Jobs were lost, investments fell through the floor and homes were foreclosed.

Now, California is left with the wreckage of its politician’s decisions. Like its residents, the state had to made painful budget reductions. School funding and health care funding were cut. State employees had their salaries reduced by 15 percent.

Yes, those were difficult choices, but are no different from the choices faced by individual families across the state.

Some families had to choose between paying their mortgage or paying for their children’s tuition. So their children left school because they couldn’t pay for it and couldn’t get student loans because the lenders weren’t loaning because the credit crises had them scared.

Some families had to delay a doctor’s visit or buy fewer clothes for their kids. They gave less to charities, and spent a little less on non-essentials like the Nisei Week Festival.

What is puzzling is that as a whole, our state legislature is composed of educated individuals who, for the most part, understand basic economic principles. For example, simple addition: 1+1 = 2. Simple subtraction: 1-1 = 0. Armed with this knowledge, they should have at least been able to balance their budget figures.

Yet, here we are, in a budget fiasco that threatens the state’s economic viability. We’re losing everything because the men and women in Sacramento thought money grew on trees and forgot it actually comes out of our collective pockets.

To borrow from Inspector Clouseau, no one is to blame and everyone is to blame. The politicians are to blame because they couldn’t do their job at the most fundament levels.

Democrats blame Republicans for being obstructionist and refusing to acknowledge the fact that we need to increase taxes to fund the state’s programs. Republicans blame Democrats for never meeting a spending program they didn’t like and for taxing the economic life out of its taxpayers.

Our elected officials, state and local, were too scared to say no to the special interests that helped finance their election and re-election. They forgot about the people they served.

You and I are to blame for electing the same politicians to office and not holding them accountable for their actions. We let them make fiscally myopic decisions while ignoring the possible long-term consequences.

We knew what we were getting wasn’t free and now the bills have come due. It’s time for all parties to put aside their differences, make sacrifices, and come together to find solutions. It will be painful and will hurt for a while, but with proper care, the patient will recover.

Or, we can continue along the same road and see firsthand how wrong the opinion-makers were when they said this was the worst case scenario and things couldn’t get much worse.

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Joe Soong writes from Alhambra and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of
The Rafu Shimpo.

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