Commentary: California's leaders must also share in sacrifices

It was hardly a secret that the spending plan the California Legislature passed in July did not end the state's fiscal catastrophe. It wasn't until Wednesday, however, that the state got a clear sense of how large that catastrophe has become.

The Legislative Analyst's Office reported that the state is facing a deficit estimated at $20.7 billion over the next 19 months, followed by similar shortfalls the following four years.

With the budget gimmicks exhausted, the federal stimulus funds coming to an end, and general fund spending $18 billion less than it was two years ago, the Legislature now faces some truly wretched choices.

This page will continue to explore those trade-offs in coming weeks and months. But we think there is one place where the Legislature should start setting an example – with its own internal spending.

Over the past nine fiscal years, the budget of the Senate and Assembly has increased from $179 million to $260 million, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office. Overall general fund spending, in contrast, is now almost flat in the same period.

Much of the Legislature's spending spree came during California's boom years. But it has continued even as lawmakers have hacked away at core institutions. Between the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years, the Assembly's budget rose by $5.1 million and the Senate's by $3.8 million. During the same period, the state's overall general fund spending declined by 7 percent.

You can argue that the Legislature's $260 million budget is just a drop in the state's red ink, but it is a symbolically large drop. How can lawmakers ask interest groups to accept cuts if they won't significantly share in the sacrifice? Can they really justify giving their 50-year-old employees lifetime health care after five years of service?

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.