The day this editorial hits the streets is the day state lawmakers have to pass a budget or stop earning paychecks until they do. That means it's likely that some kind of budget will be passed on a majority vote by the Democrats in charge in Sacramento—because if there's one thing politicians understand, it's the loss of income.
However, that budget won't be a thing of beauty to anyone's eyes. What started as a $26.6-billion deficit stands now at $9.6 billion, thanks to massive spending cuts already enacted. That's still a huge gap, and without the extension of current tax rates, it's likely to be closed in part by continuing to withhold $3 billion in payments owed to public schools, maybe shuttering redevelopment agencies up and down the state and probably some accounting shell games.
Passing such a “balanced” budget will ensure that legislator pay will continue to flow, and Gov. Jerry Brown will have most of the rest of June to continue working on a deal with deep-in-the-minority-but-disproportionately-powerful Republicans.
Because rules governing the levying of taxes require the acquiescence of 67 percent of lawmakers, Brown needs two Republicans in each of the two houses of the Legislature to say yes to a proposal to extend current tax rates—a series of rate increases enacted in 2009 are scheduled to expire next month—until voters can be asked in an election to extend them for another five years. In opinion polls, a majority of likely voters say they want the chance to weigh in on taxes, but Republicans, fearing the damage that powerful anti-tax zealots can do to their careers, won't even allow a vote.
That is, except for four enterprising Republicans who've given Brown a list of demands in exchange for their agreement. The list includes weakening environmental and business regulations, imposing a spending cap and reducing state-employee pensions.
The minority party has unreasonable power to extort policy changes. That's why we grinned when we heard the news that Democrats might attain opposition-proof authority to run the state government after the process of drawing new political district boundaries is done. Knowledgeable observers are saying that redistricting maps proposed last week will make many more districts competitive come election time; Democrats could take seats now occupied by Republicans, or moderate Republicans more willing to compromise with Democrats could be elected.
In the run-up to next year's elections, the Democrats have to show voters that theirs is the party that compromises. It shouldn't be a problem, because it's true. In the past few years, Democrats have cut, cut and cut some more. They've also enacted modest pension reforms. But tax-averse voters need to be overwhelmed with proof.
That's why Democrats might need to compromise some more. They should reject the GOP gang of four's calls for weakened business and environmental regulations, but they should agree to a reasonable spending cap and raising the age when some state workers can start drawing their pension. Voters like environmental protection, and they like spending controls and reining in pensions. That's a package that should work—particularly if Democrats are able to articulate what more spending cuts mean for programs voters like, which, according to opinion polls, is just about everything but prisons.
Ideally, Republicans and Democrats would be able to work together, but thanks to the way campaigns are paid for, intransigent special interests have our representatives in a stranglehold, and the only way to get anything accomplished is to give one party complete control and then see how it does.
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