The governor portrayed himself as a skinflint and wisely promised prudence after California taxpayers flooded state coffers with billions of dollars in unexpected revenue.
"I intend to resist the siren song of permanent expenditures, whether it comes from the left or the right," the governor said. Then the demands came. From the left, there were pleas to spend more on social programs. The public school lobby demanded more money for schools. The right wanted baubles, too, including tax cuts. The governor's resolve weakened.
That was 13 years ago, and the governor was Gray Davis.
Gov. Jerry Brown appears to be dead set against spending every nickel and dime the state collects or so Californians should hope.
"Anybody who thinks there's spare change around here has not read the budget," Brown said two weeks ago.
Brown should stick to that view, as budget negotiations enter their final weeks before the Legislature's mid-June deadline for approving the budget and Brown's July 1 deadline for having the spending plan in place.
California's budget has too often been a study in the ridiculous. Revenue would flood into coffers one year, only to fall painfully short in the following years, as Davis discovered two years after the $12 billion so-called surplus when he faced a $12 billion shortfall.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who claimed he would solve the mess, made matters worse by relying on debt to help finance a $4 billion-a-year car tax cut, a reckless move for which taxpayers still are on the hook.
In the coming days and weeks, pressure will be intense on Brown and legislators.
Today, a protest billed as "the largest ever health rally" is scheduled to take place at the Capitol, as Medi-Cal providers insist on higher payments for treating poor people. Their arguments will be powerful.
Some programs ought to get more than they currently receive. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg wants an additional $200 million- plus for mental health care and $113 million to provide dental care for poor people. They are worthy proposals. Speaker John A. Perez offers a well intentioned but muddled idea that would spend $173 million on "middle class scholarships" for families with kids in college. (He ought to insist that public universities reduce their costs and tuition, which would help all students.)
But California will end up back in the morass from which it's only now emerging if it spends $200 million plus $113 million plus $173 million plus millions more for all these good programs.
The Legislative Analyst's Office has said tax revenue will be $3.2 billion above Brown's estimate. Perhaps Brown low-balled his revenue estimate for 2013. But the European economy remains in doldrums; the always- tense Middle East situation could worsen; Congress is dysfunctional; and employers hesitate to hire new workers.
Given all that, only a fool would contradict Brown. Sacramento does have its share of people who act foolishly around the people's money. If Brown's revenue estimate turns out to be low, there are plenty of past-due bills awaiting payment, not the least of which is the fiscal time bomb that is the underfunded public school teachers' pension system.
There will be give and take, as Brown and legislators haggle over the budget. That's the way of politics. But legislators must not let their appetites overpower their common sense.