By Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- The old joke about New York City is that it may be a nice play to visit, "but I wouldn't want to live there.''
That's how I feel about California, where I was last week, visiting my son, who lives in San Francisco and teaches middle school math in a tony suburb to the north in Marin County.
No question San Francisco is outa-sight beautiful, with its huge bay, the many coastal towns, the stunning Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island (with its famous but closed prison), tourist attractions like the cable cars and Fisherman's Wharf and all kinds of beautiful hills that look down on the city.
But California's staggering financial problems make Pennsylvania's seem almost bearable. Our state budget deficit is estimated in the range of $3 billion to $5 million (in a general fund budget of $28 million), while the Golden State's deficit is $25 billion (in a budget of $85 billion.)
California now has a new governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, just as Pennsylvania has new Republican Tom Corbett. Mr. Brown, in what seems (to an outsider, anyway) like a reasonable move, just proposed erasing about half of his deficit through cuts in state spending and the other half through tax increases.
Actually, the tax increases would be a five-year extension of increases approved two years ago but which are supposed to expire early this year. They include a 0.25 percent surcharge on a person's income tax, a reduction in tax credits for dependents, and increasing the state's sales tax to 6 percent from the previous 5 percent.
Mr. Corbett is vowing to erase the Pennsylvania deficit just by cutting spending (or maybe by selling state assets, such as the liquor stores) rather than by raising any taxes.
Mr. Brown wants to make severe cuts in spending for health care for the poor and elderly. While Mr. Corbett hasn't been that specific yet, some Republicans say spending on welfare and Medicaid for the poor have to trimmed, because they now make up nearly one-third of the state budget.
Mr. Brown also wants to cut state spending for higher education, which could cause university tuitions to rise. It isn't known yet if Mr. Corbett may copy this move.
Mr. Brown also wants to sharply reduce the number of state-owned vehicles that employees drive, something Mr. Corbett has talked about, and reduce the number of cell phones that state pays for.