Commentaries

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from Rolfe Winkler:

Obama’s blowout budget

Now that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, one would think the budget deficit might start to come down. Actually, no. Obama's proposed budget sets a new deficit record -- $1.6 trillion this year compared to $1.4 trillion last year.

The President thinks he can help the economy with more deficit spending. But debt is the reason we have a jobs problem in the first place. We've accumulated more debt than our incomes can support (see chart at bottom) so the economy is trying to pay it down, leading to less spending and higher unemployment. Adding to the debt pile only makes the employment picture uglier in the long-run.

In his blog entry introducing the budget, Office of Management and Budget Chief Peter Orszag tries to argue that the administration is working to close the deficit. Meanwhile the spin from the White House is that this budget marks the beginning of a "new era of responsibility." Of course that's not at all what we're getting. Orszag even trots out the line that we can grow our way out of debt:

Economic recovery – on its own – would take our deficits from 10 percent of GDP to 5 percent of GDP.

California debt rush

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Talk about a comeback. After a bruising budget fight that forced it to issue IOUs, California plans to sell as much as $10.5 billion in short-term debt later this month.

A reach for yield should trump lingering doubts about the state’s prospects among the small and large investors who are expected to snap up the revenue anticipation notes.

California’s topsy-turvy trickle-down

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The proposed California budget is looking an awful lot like trickle-down economics. But instead of the classic theory of wealth at the top seeping down to the bottom, the budget would have the state push losses down the pecking order to local governments.

While the full legislature isn’t expected to vote on the proposal until Thursday, the broad outlines of the budget should make the state’s cities and counties shudder, since the proposal would deprive them of already dwindling revenues at a time when borrowing your way out of a jam isn’t much of a fallback plan.

California IOUs don’t look so hot anymore

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Reuters is reporting that California lawmakers are close to inking a deal to close the $26.3 billion budget gap. You know what that means: no more IOUs. So don’t expect to see the IOUs popping up on a trading screen near you.

While a deal will bring the IOU drama to an end, it should create a new one in financial markets: a jump in California muni bonds since an agreement takes the prospect of default – no matter how unlikely it was in the first place – off the table.

A Timmid measure reinforces UK pensions apartheid

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At the lower end of the income scale, Britain’s pensions apartheid is well established. Public sector workers are guaranteed an index-linked pension based on their final salary, while private sector workers must just hope their contributions are enough to buy a decent income. Now it is to be applied at the top end as well.

Stephen Timms is the poor sap with the task of cleaning up the trail of ordure left by his boss, Alastair Darling, at the UK Treasury. Two months after the shambles that was the UK Budget, he’s still hard at it, trying to nail down the tax rules for a year that’s a quarter gone.

California dreams shouldn’t include the federal government

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Don’t underestimate the power of California, and its ability to suck in a reluctant federal government to bail it out of a fiscal mess of its own making.

But the Obama administration and Congress should resist.

Not only is the federal government shouldering the already heavy burden of sorting out the auto and banking industries, the housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the
hard-to-get-rid-of American International Group, but such action would undermine the state’s need to revamp what has become an ungovernable system built on gerrymandering, ill-conceived tax schemes like Proposition 13 and unrealistic restraints like needing a two-thirds majority to pass a budget.

California faces its moment of truth

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agnes1The California budget impasse comes to a head one way or the other this week, with state lawmakers needing to make nice by June 30 to close a $24 billion budget gap. If they don’t, rating agencies have threatened to downgrade the state’s credit ratings.

California’s Comptroller said he would begin handing out IOUs on July 2 and the Treasurer said the state will draw on reserves to service the debt of all economic recovery bonds on July 1. (These bonds were created in 2004, when voters gave the state government the authority to raise $15 billion through bond issuance to plug another budget deficit.)

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