Democratic legislative leaders vowed today that the Legislature will pass a "share the pain" budget-balancing plan early next week - with or without tax increases -- that will close the state's spending deficit without completely shredding California's social services safety net.
The vows by Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, came about an hour after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wouldn't sign a plan that was balanced with tax increases.
The rhetorical staking out of ground by the key figures in the current version of the state's ongoing fiscal melodrama came a day after the Legislature's joint budget conference committee, on a party-line vote, adopted a plan that included about $2 billion in new oil production and cigarette taxes to help bridge a $24 billion budget gap.
Let's take a brief look at what else the conference committee has done. They resisted some of the worst health care cuts, including the total elimination of Healthy Families (the SCHIP program). They reduced education spending significantly in both K-12 and higher ed. They reduced corrections spending by a fairly large amount. Despite the fact that state parks pay for themselves, Democrats agreed to cut state participation in park funding, replacing it with additional fees on park admissions. They agreed to increasing withholding by 10%, which amounts to an interest-free loans from citizens to the state. According to Karen Bass, they agreed to 45% of the Governor's proposals in full, and 93% in part.
I don't even much like what the Democrats came up with. But they did not agree to completely wipe out the social safety net, calling for moderate increases in revenue on constituencies who have been getting away with murder, pretty much literally, for decades, to pay for the externalities in health care costs that they impose on the public. As Noreen Evans explains:
Californians expect their schools to be good, a safety net to be available to the needy, a college education to be affordable for working families, their air and water to be clean, and their parks to be open and kept up. In order to meet their expectations, we must to pursue new revenues. Today, for the greater good, we approved two new tax proposals that won't impact most Californians.
Establishing a 9.9 percent tax on oil extracted from California would generate $830 million in FY 2009-2010 and $1.1 billion in future years. This precise proposal was part of the governor's budget proposals last year. Increasing the excise tax on cigarettes by $1.50 per pack generates $1 billion in FY 2009-2010.
Tax increases require a 2/3 vote. Absent the pursuit of new revenues, wider and deeper cuts will be required. Getting new revenues requires a mere 6 Republican votes: 2 in the Senate and 4 in the Assembly. It is undemocratic that the votes of 6 Republicans can veto the votes of 75 Democrats.
But Arnold wants to destroy the state of California like a good little neo-Hooverist, so he said no.
The Dem leadership appears to want to have this fight for the moment, so they ought to realize one thing: Arnold will ultimately be responsible - and reviled - in a government shutdown situation. No question about it. Not 1 in 10 Californians can even NAME a Democrat in the legislature. If the ship sinks, Arnold will be perceived as the skipper. And so, if and when Arnold vetoes the bill, the Democrats should send it back - with MORE tax fairness solutions, daring Arnold to prolong the agony. That resets the battle and draws clear lines between those who want the richest companies in America to sacrifice along with ordinary Californians, and those who want to protect the rich completely. Unfortunately, the Dems are tipping their hand that this will not be the case.
But Bass and Steinberg seemed to be reconciled to the likelihood that the tax hike proposals would fail next week. Steinberg said that if they did, the package they sent the governor would have a reserve $2 billion smaller than he had sought.
We have a couple days to change this dynamic. The progressive movement around the budget has stiffened spines a bit so far. Time to make the calls and emails.
This is funny:
Schwarzenegger added that he wants a budget plan that will bridge the entire projected deficit of $24 billion, not a stopgap measure to "kick the can down the alley."
The plan must consist of permanent solutions to the state's fiscal problems, not one-time revenue that sparks ongoing spending commitments, Schwarzenegger said.
When Schwarzenegger was reminded that his own budget plan contains some one-time revenue proposals, such as acceleration of income tax payments, he smiled.
"Very good point," he said. "We don't want to add to the problem."
The cyborg is not running on all cylinders. He has a single-minded purpose to kill the California dream and even these extremely moderate revenue enhancements.