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Will Jerry Brown Let You Fix California's Budget?

I feel like a broken record.

As the fiscal year ends, California is facing a crisis, with no budget…and a $19.1 billion…deficit…(yawn)…and no solution…zzzzzzz…..

California Attorney General and democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown.
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California Attorney General and democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brown.

I’ve been reporting essentially the same thing for over two years, and while services have been cut and people are suffering, California, for the most part, is still functioning.

I’m in Sacramento as the fiscal year ends.

Legislators have decided to leave the Capitol for a month-long recess because it was deemed too expensive to keep them here and pay them per diem when legislative leaders had no budget for them to vote on. Nothing has been said about volunteering to forego the per diem and stay to work during desperate times. But we’ve seen these desperate times before. Been there, done that, call me when you have a bill by, like, September.

I’m interviewing Controller John Chiangon Wednesday. Chiang says he will stop paying some bills starting Thursday. By the end of summer, if there’s no budget deal, he may have to again issue IOUs. That could very well happen, as Arnold Schwarzenegger, a lame duck Governor with nothing left to lose, has vowed not to approve any budget without pension reform. Republicans have the votes to block any budget that raises taxes. The Democratic majority is not interested in any more cuts.

This means the budget fiasco will most likely fall into the lap of the next Governor, either Attorney General Jerry Brown or former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman. I asked both nominees to speak with me about the budget as the fiscal year drew perilously to a close.

Only Jerry Brown said yes.

Brown, who has been Governor before, has been criticized for not yet presenting a budget plan.

“The process is the plan,” he tells me. And it appears that process will be to present voters with choices: what to cut, and whether to raise taxes. It is an unusual way to pass a budget. Hear more in our interview below.

Will that work? Or will California continue to muddle through the crisis by borrowing, pushing back, cutting, until the economy improves, people start working, and income tax revenues rebound? Then everything will be fine, until the next downturn, which will set off another bout of hand-wringing about California’s universally derided tax code and the lack of pension reform for public employees.

Try staying awake through that again.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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