It would take a miracle on the order of an image of Saint Barbara appearing on a Super Cuca’s shrimp taco for California’s leaders to pass a state budget by the time you read this.
Barring such an epic event, our alleged leaders in Sacramento are now more than nine weeks past the constitutional due date for a budget, just the latest symptom of Sacramento’s chronic and toxic political dysfunction.
This year’s impasse has not beat the Capitol’s all-time late-budget record of 100 days, set in 2008. But the intractability of the ideologically driven issues that underpin the fight between Republican Governor Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-dominated Legislature over a projected $19-billion deficit suggests that 2010 could be a banner year. We’re Number One!
As a practical matter, the partisan deadlock matters to anyone who uses public schools, parks, or roads, or counts on local governments to provide other services. It carries urgent, in some cases life-or-death, importance to senior citizens or poor people who depend on public health, child care, or welfare programs. The standoff also raises the specter of California once again paying its bills with IOUs, if the conflict is not resolved by month’s end. Coming amid the worst recession in decades, that shameful spectacle would not only add more uncertainty to the troubled economy, it would also force taxpayers to pay many millions of extra dollars for the costs of state borrowing in the financial markets.
Here is a look at the key issues in the face-off:
• On taxes, Democrats want to suspend about $2 billion in scheduled tax breaks for business, and also are pushing a new extraction tax on oil companies that operate in the state; Republicans insist the deficit must be fixed only through cuts in existing spending without resorting to new revenues.
• On cuts, Schwarzenegger has proposed a wide range of new cuts, from scrapping the state’s welfare-to-work program and home health visits for seniors, to whacking child-care services and raising costs of care for those on Medi-Cal; Democrats argue that such programs have already been cut too much in recent years.
• In politics, the November election means that partisan posturing is the top priority for most legislators and that chances of a compromise based on bipartisan rationality are less than dim.
While the budget, the single most crucial financial responsibility of state government, remains stalled, the pace of campaign fundraisers in and around the Capitol is, by contrast, approaching warp speed: No less than 79 fundraisers were scheduled for the month of August alone.
To cite a typical example, the Sacramento Bee reported that Assemblymember Isadore Hall, D-Compton, was tossing himself a Caribbean-themed holiday event at which supporters were asked to kick in the cost of a sailing trip in St. Thomas for $6,500, or $4,000 for a scuba diving expedition in St. Bart’s, or the $2,000 cost of snorkeling in St. Lucia.
“That’s 79 fundraisers — one short of the Assembly’s membership and one short of double the Senate’s,” said Greg Lucas, editor of the popular “California’s Capitol” blog. “It’s four times the 20 working days for the Legislature in August, the final month of the Legislature’s 2010 session.”
SANTA MARIA SPECIAL ELECTION:
Republican Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee defeated former Democratic assemblymember John Laird Tuesday in the closely watched special election for the 15th State Senate seat previously held by GOP Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado.
With Democrats coveting the district, which runs from Santa Maria to San Jose, so that they can get within one vote of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, the high political stakes in the district not only attracted millions of dollars in special interest spending for Blakeslee, but also the intervention of President Obama, whose personal endorsement of Laird was mailed to voters.
“Obama won the district by nearly 20 points, and Democrats are suffering from an enthusiasm gap,” said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio. “The mailer was designed to motivate our base and get Democrats and decline-to-state voters fired up about an election that the Republicans didn’t want them to know about.”
Responded Blakeslee consultant Kevin Spillane: “The Obama endorsement is just the latest example of the Democratic establishment on the defensive and circling the wagons around John Laird. But it doesn’t solve John Laird’s central problem — his voting record in the Legislature of raising taxes and killing jobs.”
Looks like Blakeslee won that argument.