Politics & Government

California's 2010 governor candidates play it safe in budget crisis

Past and potential future Gov. Jerry Brown may have played it safest when he passed on a question from a San Diego radio host recently on how he would solve California's historic budget crisis.

"You certainly don't – a year and a half before you get going – tell everybody what you would do, because that's a recipe for failure," he quipped.

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger warns that the state is fast running out of cash and calls for budget cuts to cure a $24 billion deficit, his would-be replacements face risky political decisions in spelling out how they would handle a crisis unfolding long before they would take office in January 2011.

By then, the state's current fiscal meltdown will have been resolved, papered over or reduced in scale, or will have morphed into a ghastly new form.

Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento, said candidates failing to offer "intelligent, careful explanations" on the budget mess are better off "being silent than simplistic."

But he added: "At some point, to be a credible candidate, you're going to have to address the crisis and what you, as governor, will do about it."

That's the perilous part.

Former eBay CEO and Republican candidate Meg Whitman campaigns across California, advocating job cuts to net a 10 percent "head count" reduction in California's 345,000-person state workforce.

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