Budget Reform... Reformed?

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Last week, Governor Schwarzenegger was trying to right one of his wrongs from 2005 on the subject of political map drawing. Next week, he's expected to resuscitate another one of the 2005 "year of refrorm" issues: a constitutional amendment to change the state budget process.

Last time, it was a proposal to allow the governor to make some midyear budget cuts on his own -- without legislative approval. It also would have allowed the governor to have the power to, if he so desired, make some of those cuts from the public schools.

This last provision of Proposition 76 -- the ability of the governor to trim spending even in K-12 education and thus supersede the firewall protections for school funding under 1988's Proposition 98 -- was the one that probably sunk not only the budget initiative, but the entire Schwarzenegger special election agenda. With tens of millions of dollars in TV ads funded by teachers unions and others, voters rejected all four of the governor's government reform ideas.

But Schwarzenegger has never let go of the notion that the state's budget woes can never be fully resolved without a change in the budget process itself. And so it appears next week, he'll roll out a new proposal.

We don't know what's in it. But we do have a basic outline of it, courtesy of this morning's weekly gubernatorial radio address... this week, delivered by Schwarzenegger's budget director, Mike Genest:

"His proposal would set aside money in a rainy day fund in the good years that we could tap into when the economy is down. When we see a deficit coming the plan would impose moderate cuts throughout the year to avoid severe reductions all at once."

So it appears that there will again be some mechanism for midyear cuts. And because this is a true shifting of power from the legislative branch to the executive branch, you can bet there will probably be another battle.

Genest's speech goes on to say that the governor will be soon campaigning up and down the state to get the voters behind his proposal. Does that mean a return to his former political strategy of "if the Legislature won't act, I'll circulate an initiative"?

Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, this year's budget mess is a particularly pointed time for all of this to resurface.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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