One of the main sticking points in the discussions over a budget solution is whether California will adopt a tougher spending cap. The Republicans insist the spending cap is part of the deal. They have argued for years that excessive and automatic spending is greatly responsible for the continued budget deficits the state has struggled with over the years and only the discipline of a spending cap can reverse that trend.

The Democrats have no interest in a spending cap. They argue that a rigid spending cap will prohibit the state from responding to changing needs of the people.

Politically, Republicans are concerned that since Democrats are so adamantly opposed to a spending limit measure, even if the Democrats agree to putting such a measure on a future ballot in exchange for tax increases, the Democrats and their allies will go all out to defeat it when the proposition comes before voters. In this scenario, the tax increase bartered for the ballot measure will already be in place. (The spending cap would be a constitutional change and therefore would require approval of the voters.)

Given the set-in-stone attitudes on both sides, there has been no movement on this important issue.

Here is a possible solution to take this matter out of gridlock. Adopt a spending cap to the Republicans liking but include an “escape clause” upon a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which allows the cap to be increased if changing conditions require it.

I know what you’re thinking—the Democrats hate the two-thirds vote restrictions now in the law. In fact, they are making a push to remove some of them. Republicans believe a two-thirds vote is a valid standard that forces certainty in important decisions, especially those that deal with fiscal matters.

But the Democrats should consider how this additional provision might change the dynamics of the spending limit debate.

By allowing the legislature to increase the spending cap by a two-thirds vote, a spending cap increase would not have to go back to the voters, which is the case under the Republican spending cap proposal. If there were a reason to increase the cap, a program that was needed to offset some problem, it is reasonable to assume a two-thirds vote can be achieved.

But perhaps more importantly for the Democrats may be politics. The Democrats believe achieving the two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature is within reach. If they succeed they will be in position to raise the limit and raise taxes as well. This strongly held belief might convince Democrats to make this deal to solve the current budget impasse.

Defeating a spending cap at the polls is not a sure thing. While times have changed, the original Gann spending limit passed three to one in 1979. Given the news out of Sacramento recently, voters are probably inclined to give another spending cap their approval. Having the ability to alter a limit with a super majority vote should give Democrats some comfort. If a spending limit measure qualifies for the ballot as an initiative, as some Republican allies are suggesting, you can bet it will not have an escape clause.

As for the Republicans, under this plan they will get the spending cap they want and would need to have faith that they can muster the votes necessary to keep the limit in place when measures they oppose to increase the limit are proposed.

A spending cap provision with an “escape clause” may be the way to move the budget debate forward.