As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Yes, Cutting Jobs And Services Does Affect The Economy

Dan Walters had a funny column a few days back, excoriating anyone who use "numbers" and "projections" to theorize about the impacts of budget cuts. As if it's some kind of novel idea that an economy dominated by government spending would rise or fall based on the amount of that spending. Mr. Walters, 1937 called and wants a word with you.

Anyway, let's look at the heart of Walters' complaint. First he says that we must have a hefty budget reserve because the economy is likely to go south, and because it will signal to bankers that "we're solvent so they'll buy our short-term notes." As I noted earlier, this is nonsense given the clear Constitutional duty to repay debt before practically everything else. Then he says this:

Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty, meanwhile, of emitting self-important nonsense about the impacts of their actions on the state's recession-wracked economy. While Democrats claim that cutting "safety net" programs and/or public payrolls will worsen the recession by taking money out of circulation, Republicans claim that raising taxes will retard recovery by discouraging investment and/or consumer spending.

Both practice voodoo economics. The entire deficit on which they are working, $24.3 billion including Schwarzenegger's desired reserve, is well under 2 percent of the state's economy. The lesser cuts and taxes they are debating would merely shift relatively small amounts of money from one form of spending to another, all within the state's economy, so the macro economic impact would probably be nil, no matter what they do.

That's a strange opinion, especially because in the next sentence, he argued that a budget filled with gimmicks would threaten our economic future, even though such gimmickry would effect the same small amount of cash, from a macroeconomic perspective. But to his main point - cutting spending for state services, cutting jobs, cutting salaries for public employees and their related vendors, has a multiplier effect that in fact does weaken the prospects for economic recovery. You don't have to take my word for it. John Myers ran a story on this just today.

"It's hard to see how the country recovers if California does not," says U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). Lofgren says she thinks congressional authorization of loan guarantees for any state will happen. But no one thinks it'll happen in time for California, which needs to go to market -- assuming a budget deficit deal is agreed to in the state Capitol -- early next month.

Lofgren says she's particularly troubled that the national stimulus and recovery programs... which are expected to benefit California by as much as $80 billion... could be drained of their help by the cuts needed to balance the state budget. "It is contrary to the efforts that we're making," she says.

This is a fact neglected by Walters, the very real possibility that certain spending cuts would result in the forfeiture of stimulus funds as well as regular funding, multiplying the effect of the cuts. Many of the programs that Schwarzenegger wants to eliminate, like Healthy Families, CalWorks and Medi-Cal, have their funding matched by the federal government. Clearly any dollar cut there would mean $2 in practical cuts to Californians. And losing out on stimulus dollars could number in the tens of billions.

This UCLA Anderson Report also speaks to the impact of state spending on California and the nation at large.

According to UCLA Anderson Forecast senior economist Jerry Nickelsburg, there is nothing happening in California that will help pull the state out of recession in advance of the nation.

"California," Nickelsburg writes, "is in for a continued rough ride for the balance of 2009 and is not going to see economic growth return until the end of the year, shortly after the U.S. economy begins to grow."

The dire conditions surrounding the state budget will contribute to prolonging tough conditions in California, according to the report.

In his essay, Nickelsburg notes that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is attempting to close the state's $24 billion budget gap with a combination of fee increases, forced borrowing from local government, the sale of state assets and, primarily, budget cuts.

Yet that the real risk for California, Nickelsburg writes, is the possibility that there will be no budget agreement at all and that the chaotic and inefficient spending cuts that would likely follow would have an even more severe impact on the ability of California to stem the downturn in economic activity this year.

The rhetoric has risen to the extent where a prolonged stalemate, like every year given our broken governmental structure, is possible. But clearly, Nickelsburg is demonstrating that state spending does have an impact on the economic picture at large, especially at a time when there's 11.5% unemployment and a growing dependence on state services.

That one of the top political reporters in the state would deny this economic reality is just baffling.

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