April 13 (Bloomberg) — State governments have a surefire strategy for hoodwinking the public and the news media, and nowhere does it work more perfectly than in California. Journalists can't stop lauding Governor Jerry Brown for turning a fiscal crisis into a "surplus," even though that surplus was achieved by ignoring more than $6 billion in costs.

It's not just because they love Brown. The same thing happened in 2000 and 2007, when California's previous two governors, Democrat Gray Davis and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, respectively, also reported rosy budgets. Both were praised for responsible governance. Davis was considered presidential material, and there were calls to amend the Constitution to allow Schwarzenegger (for whom I worked) to run for president.

Then, within just a few years, California's budget turned south again because neither governor had addressed the state's core budget issues.

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