Budget Drama Marches Into March

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So many moving parts, so little time. That's the view from the cheap seats as to what's next in the 2011 budget saga, though it's admittedly not a very different prognosis than in years past.

Still, it's worth taking a look at some of those moving parts -- a look at the week ahead -- as the clock starts to loudly tick on Governor Jerry Brown's self-imposed deadline for a statewide special election on his budget plan.

In re Redevelopment: There's no denying that $1.7 billion is real money. But compared to the overall size of the state's projected deficit -- and when matched against some very deep cuts to social services and health programs -- the reason Brown's redevelopment proposal is getting so much attention is that it's real a political brawl.

Power brokers in cities across the state are fighting to keep redevelopment alive, pushing an alternative to the Guv's demolition that focuses on a long-term borrowing, via securitization, of property tax dollars earmarked for redevelopment agencies. On Friday, Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) outlined a modified version of the borrowing plan, one which he said would make it optional for locals to participate, thus avoiding the 'state taking the money' ban under last fall's Proposition 22. Meantime, other budget conferees on Friday expressed a desire to simply ask the voters to repeal Prop 22 and start over. All of the wrangling begs the question: has Brown's plan to permanently ax the local development agencies faltered? Or is this perhaps the final throes of RDA backers who fear the Guv is winning the battle?

Pension-O-Rama: Last week's sizzling recommendation by the independent Little Hoover Commission that lawmakers should freeze, and then lower, pension benefits for current state workers (not those already retired, BTW) symbolizes the sense that pension "reform" is in vogue here in Sacramento. With multiple bills having been introduced at the Capitol and the sense that some Republicans may be looking at the issue as a key demand in budget talks, we're going to be hearing an awful lot about the issue in the near future.

Who's Backing Brown? The governor's trip down to Los Angeles on Friday to pick up a budget blessing from the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce either signals emerging consensus or much-ado-about-nothing. You choose. Brown clearly jumped at the chance to affix a 'business friendly' label on his plan (and getting in the news in the state's biggest media market didn't hurt), even though the state's most influential business group remains mum on his budget. Loyal Republicans, on the other hand, instantly dismissed the endorsement. With so little time left before March 10 (if that's actually the deadline), the governor may not get many more chances to go outside of what's been his main strategy: private Capitol meetings mixed with occasional but carefully planned chats with the press.

What's the Election Endgame? And now to the big question we're all waiting to answer: how does it all end? While it's true that some Democrats remain uneasy about the budget cuts in play (and the conference committee process has made that clear), the reality is that the looming deadline still comes down to whether enough Republicans will find a way to ratify a special election on additional taxes in June. While some are pushing both GOP legislators and Brown to accept the other's terms and move on, the two sides still seem to be at loggerheads. The governor probably wound up with a slight win in the PR battle after last Thursday's visit with budget conferees (his quip that not allowing vote is "not American" made several newspapers), but the Capitol isn't being overrun by people demanding to vote. Which means that either Republicans have some kind of heretofore unknown plan, or Governor Brown gets to choose between two bad alternatives: stick to his 'I'll-do-an-all-cuts-budget-if-you-really-want' promise, or explore the often buzzed about idea that there's a way to call an election without a supermajority legislative vote.

Either of those options threaten to make the governor a bit of a political pariah, a designation that his predecessor knew all too well... and from which an already tough mission would seem to be Mission Impossible.

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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.
  • Milan Moravec

    Ax University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary). Just how widespread is the budget crisis at University of California Berkeley? University of California Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau’s ($500,000 salary) eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.
    A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.
    It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.
    In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. Merely cutting out inefficiencies will not have the effect desired. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC President, Chairman of the UC Board of Regents Gould, California Legislators to jolt Cal back to life, applying some simple oversight check-and-balance management practices. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donors, benefactors await Cal senior management’s transformation.

    UC Berkeley public reprimand, censure: NCAA places Chancellor Birgeneau’s men’s basketball program on probation
    The author,who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way senior management work.
    (UC Berkeley ranking tumbles from 2nd best. The reality of UC Berkeley relative decline is clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place. By 2011 the ranking had not returned to 2nd best)