Preventing a
shutdown of the federal government, Republicans and Democrats in Congress and
the White House managed to reach agreement on the budget against seemingly
insurmountable odds. Are there any clues in the budget deal that could lead to
California’s politicians reaching agreement on a stalled budget plan?

particulars of a budget deal in Washington and Sacramento are different, of
course. California’s budget debate centers on taxes and the governor’s promise
to allow the people to vote on those taxes. Just as important is the question
of major budgetary reforms and the willingness of special interests, lead by
the public employee unions, to give the green light to friendly Democrats to allow
votes on those reforms.

The unions
have said no to putting reforms on the ballot. Republican legislators have felt
pressure from certain sections of their party not to even put tax measures
before the people.

Washington, they reached a deal by agreeing to cuts $38-billion, more than the
Democrats wanted but not as much as the original Republican marker of
$61-billion. The push to defund Planned Parenthood, a Republican demand, was
set aside.

political scorekeepers are tallying who won or lost in the DC showdown, neither
side has to deal with the frustration of the American people if nothing had
been done.

On the other
hand, the debt crisis is still with us. The cuts made were small compared to
the problem and a lot more has to be accomplished to put the country on a good
financial footing.

The federal
deal only stalls budget debate for six months. In California, the potential for
a deal could solve our state’s budget problems for much longer if major reforms
such as spending limitations and pension reforms to offset the coming squeeze
on state and local budgets find their way on the ballot.

Compromise is
a dirty word to some in the California debate. They say the legislators must
adhere to principle. However, I’m not sure that compromise is even the
appropriate word in this instance.

If the reform
and tax measures reached the ballot, the voters would decide the direction we
take. Voters may decide on continuing taxes and rejecting budget reforms, but
it is more likely they would do the reverse.

It is an
opportunity that comes along rarely for minority Republicans – to get reforms
that they have worked for through the legislature and before the voters. Budget
reforms enacted by the voters would set our state finances on a better, more
stable path.

With the
Republicans in the minority, that is clearly a victory and, perhaps, the best
they can expect. As California Republican congressman, Darrell Issa, said after
the deal was struck in Washington, "It’s all that one-half of one-third of the
government can hope for."

California, Republicans have even less control over the government. But they do
have leverage under our constitutional processes. Using that leverage to
promote a deal that allows the people to vote on tax extensions as well as positive
reforms to end the wrenching constant deficit crises in the state is a good use
of their power.

As Ronald
Reagan said when he was in the White House:

"There are some
people who would have you so stand on principle that if you don’t get all that
you’ve asked for from the legislature, why, you jump off the cliff with the
flag flying. I have always figured that a half a loaf is better than none…"

As with the
Washington agreement, such a deal would come on Republican terms and be a sign
of their strength. It would highlight the issue of the size and spending of
government in a state capitol controlled by Democrats and would be a true

The other
piece of the puzzle is that the Democrats and governor would have to agree to
put the reforms on the ballot. That is no sure thing. But, as
I have written previously
, Democrats defiance to putting reforms on the
ballot while the Republicans agree to the entire ballot package changes the
narrative and pushes the Republican agenda of spending limitation to the
forefront. Democrats would have to live with the failure of not trusting the
people. Republicans would be right to refuse putting tax measures on the ballot

Perhaps there
is something that can be learned out of Washington’s wheeling and dealing that
will move along the California budget debate.