Democrats in Sacramento have been trying to change their image as agents of big government and big spenders controlled by public employee unions. But then up pops that old saw about a leopard changing its spots.
Part of the California budget agreement is a plan for education funding that smells of hypocrisy and cheap politics.
Under an attached bill, of course proposed too late to receive public scrutiny, the state would cap the amount of money local school districts may hold in reserve for economic uncertainties.
The caps will go into effect if voters approve a Democrat-backed California constitutional amendment on the November ballot setting aside money for a state reserve fund.
That's one piece of hypocrisy. If Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders believe in a so-called "rainy-day fund" for the state, then why wouldn't they want it for school districts too?
But there is more. Brown often extols the virtue of a principle he calls "subsidiarity," known in plain language as "local control," that the state should leave as many decisions as possible to counties, cities and districts.
So why does he now want the state to dictate how local school officials make decisions on fundamental budget issues?
Leaders in school districts are rightly complaining. They've been trying to do the right thing, saving money to blunt future economic downturns. Now the state is telling them they can't.
Why? Democrats claim they want ensure state money sent to school districts is actually spent on classrooms and not socked away.
But we have another explanation: The caps on school districts' reserve funds is a giveaway to teachers' unions, which are big campaign contributors to Brown and Democratic legislators. In exchange for capping districts' reserves -- making more money available for teachers' contracts -- the CTA would drop its expected opposition to the rainy-day-fund initiative.
That's not a good enough reason to restrict districts' ability to save to protect themselves from economic fluctuations.
The state's local education funding is being distributed under a new system and because local district officials aren't sure how much money they will get many have been wisely holding hefty percentages of their budgets in reserve.
The state sets minimums for districts' reserves, ranging from 1 percent to 5 percent of total budgets depending on size of the district. The new law would establish maximums, too.
It's ironic that teachers are for the caps, since more money in reserve could protect them from layoffs in the next sour economy. And it's contradictory that Brown and fellow Democrats support the caps.
The governor's stated principles of local control and fiscal prudence are proper, but he needs to walk the talk.