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In a debate over a budget crisis that has so far felt very predictable, today's activity at the state Capitol was decidely new. In fact, it felt like a drug intervention... where the state's top fiscal officers sat everyone down and gave the hard, cold facts.

But after it was all over, there still seemed to be an air of defiance, not acceptance.

The question and answer session that followed today's rare joint session proved the point. After presentations by Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Controller John Chiang, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, and gubernatorial finance director Mike Genest, that Q&A felt very much like a premeditated exercise in highlighting facts designed to prove a point -- not prompt discussion.

The bad news was easy to find: Lockyer's warning that the pot of money designed to infuse cash into transportation and school construction projects would dry up in just nine days' time... and Chiang's scolding that the November budget gridlock added another $500 million to the state's projected problem.

But as mentioned before, the Q&A clearly showed that the intervention had not scared anyone straight.

Democratic legislator questions seemed designed to show the danger of cutting too deeply into social programs during a recession; Republican questions pointed out the danger of raising taxes on already struggling businesses and workers.

Perhaps the best quip came from Lockyer, the veteran ex-legislator who now finds himself dispensing advice from outside the walls of the Capitol. The treasurer suggested legislators needed to decide what their job should be.

"Each of you gets to decide," he said, "to what extent you're a thermometer or a thermostat, reflecting external realities or setting your own course."

It's an insightful comment; trouble is, there's some of both in the Legislature these days. And it's hard to see anyone being forced to give up their own view of the world... at least, for now.

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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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