| And so the budget drama hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Democrats have caved and given Arnold Schwarzenegger what he wanted - a cuts-only budget that does massive and lasting damage to the state of California, to the people who live here, and to our collective future. It's taken 31 years, but Howard Jarvis is finally going to get the wholesale destruction of public services he always wanted.
After resolving their major education dispute Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders hope to finalize a budget deal today that closes California's $26 billion deficit with spending cuts, accounting shifts and revenues from local governments.
State leaders have agreed on a general budget framework and gave attorneys and budget aides time Saturday to draft a bill, sources close to negotiations said....
Besides spending cuts, the budget proposal includes capturing more than $4 billion from cities, counties and special districts.
It also relies on accounting tricks, such as increasing income tax withholding schedules by 10 percent to shift money from 2010-11 to 2009-10, as well as delaying state worker paychecks next June 30 to July 1.
In the coming days we will hear Democratic legislators claiming this is some sort of victory - that Cal-WORKS wasn't eliminated, that California can again pay its bills. These are hollow, pyrrhic victories. The raid on local government funds will ensure dozens of cities go bankrupt and will lead to reckless public safety cuts, especially to firefighters. Schools are going to get another hit without any firm guarantee that they will be repaid - we haven't seen details of the "agreement" to repay the $9.5 billion schools are owed, but Arnold seems to have won the battle to prevent repayment from becoming a constitutional mandate, meaning that repayment shouldn't be counted on until the checks are actually cut.
Still unclear is the fate of health care, IHSS, state parks, and other proposed cuts. But at this point it's not clear that their exact fate matters much. Democrats have signaled that they will abandon their half-hearted efforts to demand new revenues, to close corporate tax loopholes, and to have a more fairly balanced budget. When the next mid-year budget adjustment has to be done in 6 to 9 months from now, or in the battle over the 2010-11 budget a year from now, Arnold will have little incentive to listen to Democratic proposals, since he has proved once and for all that he can get Democrats to do his bidding by holding firm and demanding massive cuts.
For their part, Democratic legislators likely believe that they are merely living to fight another day, especially on Election Day in November 2010 when they hope to elect a 2/3 majority in both houses.
It seems highly unlikely they will get that result. Democrats have given Californians no good reason to vote for them in state legislative races, as they refused to stand up for Californians and the services they need to survive. They refused to make a strong push for tax fairness. And they refused to plan for economic recovery.
This is the way California ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. With a failure of leadership so complete, so total, as to leave the state bereft of hope for its future.