So Very Much Budget Work To Do. And Soon.
But this year, everyone seems to believe the deadline on Governor Jerry Brown's budget plan is real, which means that things are starting to get awfully busy on a number of fronts.
The quickened pace that the Capitol embarked on this morning is a product of the governor's campaign promise to seek voter ratification of any additional tax revenues, which translates into a late spring election to consider $14 billion in tax revenues.
While some are trying hard to quantify exactly how long lawmakers have to act (to both pass budget-related solutions and call a statewide election), the generally accepted answer is that Capitol actions need to be taken no later than the second week in March. That would give local elections officials somewhere around 12 weeks to prepare for an election; some say while it could be done in less time, an even shorter schedule for would be a gamble.
A quick look at some of the topics first out of the gate...
Controller Steps In On Redevelopment Fracas: The governor's proposal to abolish all future funding for some 400 redevelopment agencies across California has led to the most public gnashing of teeth so far. Today, Controller John Chiang announced he's launching an in-depth look at how a fraction of the state's RDAs spend property tax dollars.
"I think very few people have a good sense of how they're funded," said Chiang in a phone interview. He's selected 18 agencies to examine and plans to have results from the audits -- no surprise -- by early March.
A spokesperson for the California Redevelopment Association says the group welcomes Chiang's audits and is encouraging RDAs to fully participate.
Budget Hearings: Legislative subcommittees began their budget hearings today, and one of the last ones this afternoon offered a glimpse into just how many moving parts remain in Governor Brown's budget.
The Senate hearing was on K-12 education funding (PDF), and touched on the Guv's redevelopment proposal... mainly because abolishing RDAs would send as much as $1 billion in future years back to schools. But as the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office pointed out -- and an administration representative confirmed to the committee -- Brown still hasn't decided how that $1 billion would be spent. After all, said the LAO, the money coming back to local communities (after scrapping RDAs) would vary widely around the state. Would the $1 billion be collectively pooled and distributed somewhat equally to schools? Or would schools in some communities stand to inherit a lot more property tax dollars than schools in other communities? And if so, wouldn't that run afoul, asks the LAO, of the 1976 Serrrano v. Priest ruling on school funding?
Short answer from the Guv's Department of Finance: we're working on it.
Can Brown Get Legislators On Board? The real question to be answered over the next few weeks is whether legislators of both parties are willing to climb on board the Governor Brown Budget Train. Democrats are signaling, both publicly and privately, that they know they're going to have to "go up on" (real world translation: vote for) some ugly spending cuts -- ones so ugly that the Senate's budget chairman conjured up the idea of pirate punishment in describing what his fellow Democrats must do to balance the budget.
Meantime, Republicans are sending only the faintest of signals that they'd authorize a statewide vote on additional taxes. First out of the gate: supporters of replacing traditional public employee pensions with 401(k) type retirement plans. A newspaper story today says state Sen. Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Hills) will introduce legislation to do just that, and quotes Walters as suggesting that the two issues (pensions and a statewide vote on taxes) may be linked.
Walters lost the November election for state treasurer by a wide margin to incumbent Bill Lockyer, who wasted no time in dismissing the idea in an unrelated conference call this morning. "It makes no sense," he said. The treasurer then suggested that perhaps such proposals are being floated by those who think don't like public pension funds that manage retirement money "for working people, not rich people."
But back to the budget, Republicans are not offering much else in the way of suggestions to get them to send a tax question to the ballot. And if that continues to be their stance, then we're likely going to get down to yet another 'who blinks first?' situation in the statehouse -- as both Democrats and Republicans weigh the policy and political ramifications of sticking to their positions versus compromising on things currently considered sacred.