I recently mused on Facebook about which might arrive first: Christmas or a new budget agreement for California, which is already more than two months late. A conservative friend quickly responded with his hope that Christmas would come first.
You might call the Republican legislative strategy in California the Doomsday Scenario. And it’s not a threat. Republicans seem moore than happy to usher in the closing of state government. California will run out of cash within a month. It’s not at all clear that the governor could keep the state open if that happened. But for Republicans, there might be very little to lose.
The party is already terribly unpopular in the state. There’s little hope of any change in that. Nearly all of the Republican legislators are insulated from being kicked out of office in November by a gerrymander. And Republicans have little hope of gaining any new seats from Democrats because of the same gerrymander. Republicans already have thrown their best-known, best-liked politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, under the bus, all but dismissing him as a Democrat. The California GOP is stuck at the bottom of the pit. So why not blow up the state? There’s nowhere to go but up.
To be fair, Schwarzenegger has his own, more palatable version of a doomsday strategy. He, unlike legislative Republicans, is willing to raise taxes to get an agreement as soon as possible. But he has his own line he won’t cross–a demand for a spending restraint in the form of a real rainy day fund for the state. That’s the cross he says he’ll die on–he won’t sign a budget without it.
The problem is that it’s hard to believe the governor anymore when he takes a firm position. He has shown himself willing to abandon many other positions in the name of pragmatism. In this budget conflict, he’s backed off opposition to tax increase and a promise not to sign legislation until there was a budget compromise. So Arnold is, as always, a wild card.
This LA Times story reveals that Schwarzenegger is preparing for a long, long fight. He’s invited in previous budget directors and a former Republican legislative leader to try to figure out how to keep the lights on if there’s no budget before winter. So the next few months in California could become a test of the following premise: if the state government is gone entirely, who will miss it? With so many services provided by cities, counties or the feds, will some self-obsessed Californians not even notice?
Republicans are betting people won’t miss their state government. I suspect that the Republicans are wrong — and that they may find they have plenty to lose after all.