Sometimes it seems like Jerry Brown is the only Republican legislator left in Sacramento.
Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans. You can tell by looking at the office listings in the capitol building or reading the whining press releases this week about all the terrible things the Democrats are doing with the budget and how “It’s … Just … Not … Right!”
But then there’s the governor, negotiating pay cuts with public employee unions, convincing Democrats to go along with reductions in welfare payments and social services, talking about the need for pension reform and basically dealing with the issues that Republicans say are desperately important both to them and the state.
You know, legislating.
Now the governor is negotiating from a position of strength. Even with Prop. 25, which allows Democrats to ignore GOP legislators and pass the state budget with a simple majority vote, Brown still has to sign off on the final agreement the legislative Democrats come up with. And as he proved last year when he vetoed the first budget his fellow Dems presented him, he’s willing to play rough.
But before Republican legislators throw up their hands and say, “There’s nothing we can do,” they should remember that just because Democrats can pass a budget without GOP help doesn’t mean they have to pass the budget with no Republican votes.
Brown spent much of last year trying to get a handful of Republican votes to put a tax measure on the ballot. There was probably any number of GOP-friendly deals Republican legislators could have cut in exchange for those votes.
And I’m sure the governor would have appreciated some GOP help this year when he was working on welfare cuts or the other budget trims needed to help bridge the looming deficit.
But none of that can happen as long as the Republicans refuse to even consider the possibility of new taxes, even temporary ones, to raise needed revenue for the state. If one side isn’t willing to negotiate, there’s really not much to talk about or even a reason for a conversation, as Republican legislators discovered this year.
“My way or the highway” doesn’t work so well when the other side has the numbers.
While Brown signed the $91 billion 2012-13 state general fund budget Wednesday night, it still needs $8.5 billion from a November tax initiative if it’s really going to be balanced.
As GOP Assemblyman Jim Nielsen said in a release Wednesday, the budget “is based on cynical ploys” that force voters to either pass the tax increase or trigger huge cuts in education and other state programs.
But who’s to blame for that? How can Republicans claim that the tax hike the governor came up with was too high when they have made it clear for years that even a $50 buck boost was enough to send them swooning with the vapors?
No one party has a monopoly on good ideas – or bad ones, for that matter. If Republicans had some thoughtful way to bridge the budget gap, or even narrow it a bit, the governor and a surprising number of California voters would have been delighted to hear about it.
But the stumbling block was always the GOP’s refusal to even consider any new taxes. Without additional revenue, which isn’t going to magically appear until the state and national economy get a lot better, the only other way to eliminate the budget deficit is with cuts of a level that Democrats – and many Californians – are unwilling to consider.
So while California officially has a budget today, the state is betting on the come. If the state’s voters pass the governor’s initiative in November, fiscal disaster likely will be staved off for a few years. If they don’t, the state’s financial picture will get ugly in a hurry.
While Republicans already are saying they will do what it takes to block the tax initiative, they also might want to spend a little time over the next four months working on a plan B in case they actually get what they are hoping for.
If school funding gets stripped, as the trigger cuts in the budget call for, plenty of Californians are going to be looking to assign blame for the financial disaster. And when the fingers start pointing in a state as blue as California, an awful lot of them are going to be aimed at the GOP legislators who refuse to legislate.
John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.