No major news today on whether Abel Maldonado will... or won't... be California's next lieutenant governor. But new comments from the leader of the state Senate seem to acknowledge one part of the deliberations... or rather, six billion parts.
As in the $6.3 billion of missing dollars needed to balance the current budget... a deficit that may require the vote of Senator Maldonado to resolve.
Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg was asked about the Maldo decision this afternoon shortly before he delivered remarks at a ceremony outside the statehouse. Steinberg again shied away from any firm yay-or-nea comments, but also reiterated that he's in "no rush" to give the Central Coast legislator a final answer on becoming the next 'Lite Guv.'
Still, Steinberg made it clear that the state's newly projected budget deficit in the year ending next July looms large over the confirmation process. He said it's important that the Senate have a "full compliment" of members when weighing mid-year budget reductions.
A reasonable translation of that would seem to be: we need Maldonado for one of the 27 votes to pass a budget fix, and that means he stays in the Senate until that happens.
If, in fact, that's a correct reading... then count on this: it will be a crazy month from the time Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveils his new budget proposal in January until time runs out on the Legislature to confirm or reject Maldonado as lieutenant governor.
Remember that the 2009 version of this deficit saga lasted until February 19, though that was a $42 billion deal -- double the size of this year's shortfall plus the one projected for the coming fiscal year. The Maldonado appointment as Lite Guv must be acted on by February 22, or else he automatically gets the job.
Remember, too, that the Legislature often only acts when faced with an immovable deadline. And this would certainly fall into that category.
Of course, if Maldonado truly plans to be Schwarzenegger's "soulmate," one would assume that his budget vote will be in line with whatever the Governor wants. That would be different than what happened this past February, when Maldo demanded (among other things) a 12-cents-per-gallon hike in the gas tax removed from the deficit deal struck by Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders, in exchange for his vote.
For his part, the Governor today continued his characterization of the Maldonado selection as an affirmation of bipartisanship. "In the end," he said at a Sacramento education event, "[Democrats] will ask themselves the question: shouldn't we reward someone that is in the [political] center?"
Maldonado has made it clear that he intends to seek the Lite Guv position, no matter what, next year; and there may even be one less contender for that position among GOP ranks, which would further increase the Republican's chances come November.
For now, reading the tea leaves any further is hazardous. Suffice it to say that the two big Capitol stories in the first few weeks of 2010 are going to be inextricably linked.