Anger, Not Compromise, Now Rules Budget Fight

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

The Legislature is slated to shut down for a month-long recess on July 17, but given the slim chance for a quick agreement on the budget, legislators shouldn’t buy any non-refundable tickets.

As the state controller began Tuesday to print out the first batch of IOUs that will replace the cash money many state vendors, clients and taxpayers normally would receive, the governor and legislators reprised the old kindergarten game of “I didn’t do it, he did it.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opened the game with a morning news conference in the Capitol, where he complained that the Legislature has spent the past four weeks with “an endless amount of hearings and debates, finger pointing and assigning blame,” instead of fixing the budget.

The governor then proceeded to finger point and assign blame, saying that legislators – meaning Democratic legislators — won’t support reforms to root out fraud in huge government programs like In-Home Support Services, are committed to protecting special interests and are refusing to make the same sacrifices they’re asking of other California residents.

What the governor really was complaining about was the Democrats’ unwillingness to either accept his entire budget plan or come up with their own that can both attract the needed support from GOP legislators and his own imprimatur.

That’s easy to demand but not nearly so simple to accomplish, as Tuesday night’s desperate and ultimately unsuccessful effort to pass a trio of bills that would keep from adding $2 billion to the state’s $24.3 billion deficit showed.

That’s one reason an angry Karen Bass, the Assembly speaker who worked to broker the Tuesday night deal, stomped out of an afternoon meeting in the governor’s office, telling reporters waiting outside in the hall that “he (Schwarzenegger) broke it, he should fix it.”

That’s not exactly a call to “Come, let us reason together,” but it summed up the Democrats’ feelings toward both the governor and their GOP colleagues, who haven’t budged in an effort to reach a budget compromise.

Darrell Steinberg, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, on Tuesday called Schwarzenegger’s refusal to support the three money bills “the most irresponsible act I’ve seen in my 15 years of public service.” Santa Rosa Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, the Democrat who ran those “endless” budget hearings, in her blog Wednesday accused the governor of “manipulating” the facts of the budget debate and spinning the state into chaos.

None of that red meat talk does a thing to close the growing budget gap or incline anyone to sit down and start working out the needed compromise. The governor’s planned road trips this morning to Los Angeles and Fresno, where he hold news conferences to talk about the budget and likely knock the Legislature around some more, won’t help either.

And there are fewer and fewer possible solutions available.

Back in early June, the Democrats’ budget plan called for using the governor’s proposed $4.5 billion reserve fund to ease some of the proposed cuts in programs for the poor. But on Wednesday, state Finance Director Mike Genest said that “based on (falling) cash receipts for May and June” next year’s reserve now has slipped to $1 billion, which means the Democrats will either have to find that money elsewhere or agree to the deeper cuts.

And with California’s economy still wheezing along, no one is taking bets on how long that last bit of the reserve will last.

John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.

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