Budget +70: Going The Distance?

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No one involved in crafting a new spending plan for state government will say so, but it's starting to feel safe to assume that the 2010 impasse will end up being the longest fiscal fight in California history -- not exactly a feather in the cap of any politician here in Sacramento.

With Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders meeting this afternoon, it's clear that all sides are actually working on ways to end the now 10 week old stalemate (call it 12 weeks if you count the missed legislative deadline for ratifying a budget). But it's also true that some of the long-running differences still remain, differences that aren't going to be resolved before Schwarzenegger jets off tomorrow for an eight day trade mission to Asia.

At an event this morning previewing his visit to China, Japan, and South Korea, the Guv defended his decision to fly the coop on budget talks, saying such trips are like "taking care of a garden" -- the garden being the state's need for international business activity that ostensibly help 'grow' budget revenues. And Democratic legislative leaders aren't publicly jumping up and down about his decision to travel, apparently deciding not to respond in kind to Schwarzenegger's jabs about rank-and-file legislators leaving the Capitol for a "vacation" this summer.

But Dems aren't backing off their criticisms of the governor's budget stance. Several female Democratic assemblymembers held an event this morning decrying Schwarzenegger's May budget proposal -- a proposal Assemblymember Noreen Evans called a "dead-end proposal" for its reliance on cuts and eliminations of child and family social services. And they are still pushing some changes in state taxes -- income, car, sales -- as necessary to help fill the gap.

(The Dem 'tax swap' proposal was downsized a great deal while I was away... you can read news coverage of the change, or check out what it means for certain income categories in a one page PDF briefing document I've uploaded.)

As for that dubious achievement known as the all-time latest budget, the record -- how can we forget-- was set on September 23, 2008. Looking back at blog postings from that impasse, it's remarkable how many themes are again being highlighted -- especially Schwarzenegger's demands for reform of the budget system.

And as for the many Capitol community betting pools for picking the date of a new budget (I'm now out $2 in the press corps sweepstakes), here's a novel thought: a split decision. Remember that before a budget is signed into law, it first has to be ratified by the Legislature, and that means two different dates of which to keep track, as a review of the historical data shows. That document also shows that most budgets are signed by the governor within 2-4 days of legislative approval; 2008's record impasse was a major exception, with a full week of lag that ended with Schwarzenegger getting some extra use out of his veto pen.

So while the record for latest budget ever signed into law is September 23, the record for latest legislative approval of a budget is September 16 -- also known as one week from tomorrow. And that record seems on thin ice given the status of curremt negotiations.

But it's also entirely conceivable that a budget deal could be struck after the 16th, but one that Schwarzenegger would sign into law before the 23rd... thus setting one record and missing the other -- a split decision.

All of that is, of course, unimportant in the final analysis. What really matters is what a budget will contain... and that's something that no one can, for now, predict with any certainty.

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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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