Taking a long weekend, I didn’t have time to prepare a blog for today, so I figured why not use something I wrote years ago about the state budget debate. You see, very little has changed when it comes to the budget deliberations. A few cross-outs here, a new word there, a changed name and, presto, I have an up-to-date article.

The original, slightly longer opinion piece is from 2002 and the sad truth is we’ve all seen this play before—only some of the actors are different.

For suspense and thrills this summer, forget the Spiderman BATMAN movie or the latest Grisham JAMES PATTERSON novel. Follow the attempt to solve this year’s state budget crisis. The hole in the state budget is getting deeper. And with it, suspense builds like any good political thriller – how are the governor and legislators going to get out of this one?

Who the good guys and bad guys are in this drama will depend on your political point of view – but it will be exciting. Really!

With revelation that state income collection is smaller than anticipated, the state budget deficit will probably go over $20 FIFTEEN billion dollars, about one-fourth FIFTEEN PERCENT of the state general fund.

Not that elected officials didn’t have a clue that this was coming. In the fall, Legislative Analyst, Liz Hill, waved red warning flags as furiously as anyone working the track at the Indianapolis 500.

In the meantime, Governor Davis SCHWARZENEGGER has been frozen at the wheel. He doesn’t want to turn left or HARD right to avoid the on-coming collision.

To the left are taxes offered up by  Democrats to soften blows caused by deep budget cuts.

To the right are those cuts in programs defended by staunch interest groups. There’s plenty to cut given that the budget has increased 36% THIRTY-FOUR PERCENT and state employee positions grew by 34,000 TWENTY-SIX THOUSAND in the first three FOUR years of the Davis SCHWARZENEGGER administration, far outstripping population growth.

There is danger that cash will run out in the state to fund current expenses, never mind next year’s budget. California has been through these difficult times before. During the recession of the early 90s, the state paid employees and suppliers with warrants.

But like any good thriller, the tension is ratcheted up this time because a court has since ruled that the state cannot use warrants to pay public employees, BUT THE COURTS HAVE SAID PUBLIC EMPLOYEES CAN BE PAID ONLY THE MINIMUM WAGE….

All this budgetary action comes in an election year which makes the stakes all the higher. Some analysts have concluded that Republican Bill Simon’s best chance of unseating the incumbent governor THE GOVERNOR’S LEGACY will be determined by the governor’s handling of the budget crisis. Cutting NOT INCREASING education funding AS MUCH AS THE EDUCATION COALTION WANTED is ready made for attack ads.

To pass a budget requires a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses. While some commentators claim Republicans have shrunk to irrelevance in state policy making because of huge Democratic majorities in both the Senate and Assembly, the GOP moves to a power position if Republican representatives stick together at budget time.

A budget debate that drags on through the summer hurts the governor more than legislators because recent redistricting changes have created mostly safe, non-competitive legislative seats unlikely to bring about many upsets in November’s election. BESIDES, CONSIDERING RECENT POLLS, LEGISLATORS CAN’T FALL MUCH LOWER IN PUBLIC ESTEEM…..

LIKE ANY GOOD THRILLER NO ONE KNOWS HOW THIS WILL COME OUT SO the mundane issue of budget writing becomes a full-fledged potboiler.