A Wobbly Budget Balancing Act
The famous Flying Wallendas have nothing on Governor Jerry Brown as he tries to walk a tightrope between the towers of political paralysis in Sacramento.
Of course, Brown still hasn't pulled off the stunt... and, depending on who you believe, may ultimately realize that it simply can't be done.
Wednesday looks to be a test of not so much the chances of a deal... but rather of where the various players stand. Both the Assembly and Senate have scheduled votes on the budget package that was was came out of the joint conference committee... one that didn't have the support of Republicans.
While most Republicans are stridently opposed to a linchpin element of Brown's plan -- a special election for voters to consider extending $11 billion in taxes -- a handful of GOP lawmakers have been angling privately for a deal that trades a statewide election for GOP desires on government spending, regulations, and public employee pensions.
The eponymous 'GOP 5' admitted their existence by declaring said talks an impasse, then seemed to hint talks were still going, then apparently went their separate ways on talks as of Monday, then announced this afternoon that they "remain united as a team" in their demands.
All of which means that the budget proposal to send the tax extensions to a statewide ballot is D.O.A. when it comes up for debate in the Legislature Wednesday afternoon. That's not necessarily the end of the story, but the chapter we can expect to see tomorrow.
The $12 billion in spending reductions, however, are another story. Staffers say those spending cuts are not linked to the tax proposal -- and Democrats insist they'll vote for them, which means (Proposition 25, anyone?) that the measures would then head to the governor's desk.
Neither Democrats in the Legislature nor Republicans on the outside seem to think GOP pols will pony up any votes for the cuts tomorrow... which will no doubt lead to a long and testy floor debate between partisans, probably in the Assembly.
The vote also takes place some 48 hours before the kickoff of the year's first California GOP convention, which is being held just about a 10 minute walk away from the Capitol. There, at least one group is pushing to punish any Republican legislator who agrees to a June statewide election on taxes.Meantime, education groups continue to ratchet up their anger about a budget that would be all spending reductions -- one that could, depending on the scenario, take as much as $7 billion out of schools and colleges (the expired taxes plus suggested LAO cuts). Earlier this afternoon, it was reported that some 16,000 preliminary pink slips went out today to teachers and school staffers, advance notice of a possible layoff later in the year.
All of this leaves Governor Brown about where he began this quest -- trying to walk the tightrope between the left and the right. He conceded in remarks to reporters Tuesday that the floor votes might not really offer definitive proof as to where things will ultimately settle.
So a friendly piece of advice from the Capitol cockpit: there's a lot of fog ahead and we can't see the runway just yet. So we'll be circling for a bit... as long as we've got fuel.