A big question in California politics — spend now or save for later?

The new state budget now being crafted behind closed doors by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders exemplifies a basic factor in all political policymaking — the tension between the present and the future.

While those who seek public office often depict themselves as forward-looking visionaries, politics is essentially a short-range business, preoccupied with demands from constituents and interest groups to deal with present-day issues.

Budgets encapsulate the conflict between now and then, especially when economic circumstances provide more current revenue than needed to finance existing services and programs.

Advocates for new spending increase their pressure for slices of the enlarged pie — arguing, of course, that spending more now will pay dividends in the future. Meanwhile, fiscal watchdogs urge caution about building baseline commitments that could backfire and urge building reserves to cushion future downturns.

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