What kind of California budget will emerge?
By Dan Walters
There was no chance that California's Democratic legislators would fashion a new state budget before last Tuesday's primary election, since budget votes could have become campaign ammunition.
However, that leaves just a week before the June 15 constitutional budget deadline ― with legislators' salaries at risk if they don't make it. And with at least a $16 billion deficit to close, they can't skate by merely assuming voters will pass new taxes in November.
They will plug in that assumption, certainly, but that still leaves about $7 billion in income/outgo shortfall to be covered.
Democrats are balking at Gov. Jerry Brown's plans to slash $2 billion-plus in health, welfare and child care services to the poor, disabled, elderly and young.
Brown says he wants permanent cuts in those services not only to balance the budget, but to establish credibility with voters who will cast judgment on his income and sales tax package.
Democrats are scrambling for alternatives, such as reducing or eliminating the billion-dollar reserve Brown has built into his budget or adopting more of their infamous gimmicks that have backfired in the past.
Brown and Democratic leaders are talking about all of that, but it would appear that they're coming at the issue from markedly different standpoints.
Brown is looking at the big budget picture and strategy for the November election while Democratic legislators are facing protests from those who would be affected by the service cuts and the unionized workers who dispense those services.
If the Democrats send an obviously gimmicked-up budget to Brown, or one that reduces the reserve to little or nothing, would he veto it, as he did last year?
That veto, declaring the Democrats' budget to be unbalanced and incapable of drawing cash flow financing from Wall Street, led to Controller John Chiang's decision to cut off legislators' salaries.
Brown then let them off the hook by conjuring up ― out of thin air and wishful thinking ― an extra $4 billion in revenue that allowed the budget to be balanced on paper but that never materialized, which is one big reason the deficit is so high now.
Legislative leaders subsequently obtained a judicial decree that Chiang lacks the authority to cut off lawmakers' salaries as long as they pass some kind of budget by June 15.
But they still must enact something that either has public credibility or that Brown can massage through line-item vetoes.
If it's another phony budget that isn't worth the paper to print it, like last year's charade, it will be potent ammunition for opponents of new taxes.
They could rightfully claim that the Capitol's politicians are so irresponsible that giving them more to spend would be money down a rat hole.
Dan Walters is an editorial writer for Sacramento Bee.