California to Legislature: Drop Dead

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Will all those who are happy with the Legislature, its handling of the state's $40 billion budget hole, and the way it's communicating about what happens next please stand up?

I don't see anyone... and that's not just because I'm staring at a computer screen.

It's now been more than 24 hours since the buzzing began over a budget deal, and the slings and arrows are coming from all corners at the elected officials who hang their hats under the Capitol dome.

Embarrassing. Out of touch. Deadbeats. Those aren't my words, but descriptions of state government expressed today by supervisors from counties across southern California. Their joint meeting, held with assistance from the California State Association of Counties, was the prelude to a lawsuit being filed tomorrow over the state's decision to defer some payments to social services programs administered by California's 58 counties.

"Enough of the nonsense," said Riverside County supervisor John Tavaglione. "Start leading. Start governing."

A small group of legislators sat and took the 90 minute verbal beating, which included a pretty stern scolding for the practice of legislative leaders and Governor Schwarzenegger handing rank and file legislators a budget document with scant time to read the proposal before being asked to vote.

"I cannot comprehend how you could possibly vote for a budget that you've never seen," said Imperial county supervisor Gary Wyatt, who also serves as president of CSAC. "We would never do such a thing."

Meantime, advocates of liberal and conversative causes alike are taking aim at legislators, as more details of the supposed agreement continue to trickle out.

That includes information on a corporate tax modification sources say is part of the package. The proposal would allow companies who also do business outside of California to pick a tax liability formula that works to their liking, something that's being discussed as a loss of several hundred million dollars a year in tax revenues. "No hearings or discussion has occurred with regard to the proposal," writes Lenny Goldberg of the California Tax Reform Association in an email to reporters this afternoon.

On the right, outrage continues over the proposed tax increases. Bill Leonard, a member of the state Board of Equalization and former Asembly GOP leader, says the sales tax hike is particularly bad. "This will suppress consumer demand, and/or divert it to online vendors," he writes in a recent posting on the Republican Flash Report blog. " In many jurisdictions it would take the overall rate to 10 percent. This would be a catastrophe for our retailers."

Elsewhere, environmental advocates are unhappy with word that the deal may also include a delay in some newly adopted clean air regulations.

And the list goes on and on. Even would be governors are taking aim at the building with the big white columns.

There were chuckles yesterday when Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg balked at calling the budget proposal a "deal." As of now, though, it looks like he was right.

Few Capitol watchers believe that the necessary votes have been corralled, especially on the Republican side in the state Senate. While the official word remains that "the actual language is still being drafted"... perhaps that's because it's still being negotiated; Big Five negotiations continue even today. The earliest predictions for a floor vote are now Friday night, with the Assembly actually aiming for the sure-to-be chaotic Saturday; and some are now predicting that this will all spill into next week.

With all the angst toward lawmakers, it's not surprising that three powerful words are starting to get bandied about more and more... from chatter after today's meeting of counties to a caller during KQED's Forum program and this morning's discussion of the budget mess, three words for which there may be growing support in this season of discontent:

Part Time Legislature.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia 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. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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