Can't Lines in the Sand Be Erased?

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BUDGET DAY PLUS 9-- With legislative leaders resuming their private negotiations today over a new state spending plan, it seems worth noting what is... and isn't... negotiable, at least according to their public pronouncements.

Much ado was made yesterday of whether Democrats were drawing the idiomatic "line in the sand" over further cuts in state spending. But it doesn't take a trip out to the beach (which might be nice, considering the Sacramento heat wave continues) to know that sand drawings have a way of... disappearing.

With that in mind, here's a look at -- as of now-- what the political leaders have said they are, or aren't, willing to do.

TAXES: Republicans remain adamant that they're unwilling to accept tax increases as part of a budget deal. Even so, I'm still trying to decipher the words of Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines in an interview almost a month ago after an anti-tax event on the Capitol steps: "There are going to have to be some things that we look at, potentially with the business community, to help us get out of this, and say, 'You know, if we give you some reforms, can you, you know, help us with some different kind of revenues?"

Of course, one could be persuaded that this isn't really a big deal, because "revenues" may not necessarily be "tax increases."

But the award for mixed messaging on taxes... thus far... must surely go to Governor Schwarzenegger, when asked yesterday whether he was rejecting Democratic calls for increasing taxes:

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BORROWING, INTERNAL STYLE: Borrowing is one way of getting those elusive "revenues" without actually raising taxes. While there are pretty strong restrictions now in place on external, Wall Street borrowing (in the wake of Propositions 57 and 58)... there's always the chance that money set aside for other programs and projects could be dipped into to solve the problem. Some Republicans have suggested legislators might want to look at money collected under voter initiatives on tobacco taxes, transportation funding, and even mental health programs. But Senate President pro Tem Don Perata seemed to squelch such talk yesterday, saying it "goes against the promise" made to voters who support those programs.

SPENDING CUTS: This one seems just as hard for Democrats to swallow as a tax hike would be for Republicans. "We can't cut anymore," said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. "Line in the sand? Yeah."

It will be interesting to see what lines stand the test of time once the budget is finally enacted, and what ones disappear once push comes to shove. As most Capitol watchers know, much longer standoffs than this one have become the norm when it comes to the budget.

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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