Budget Battle: That Was the Easy Stuff

Comments (3)

Getty/Robyn Beck

When the dust finally settled Thursday afternoon, the two houses of the California Legislature had ratified spending cuts and budget transfers valued at $14 billion.

It also marked the end of what might be called Act II of a three act saga. Act I was the weeks of negotiations between Governor Jerry Brown and legislators. And Act III? That's where things are going to get downright tough.

After Wednesday's arm twisting dramas and ultimate bipartisan votes on some of the spending cuts, Thursday seemed much more of an exercise in reality: Republicans weren't going to vote for a lot of these bills.

The package of proposals on Thursday -- cuts in funding for higher education, state parks, and more -- were crafted as majority vote bills, unlike Wednesday's supermajority vote proposals. And though earlier in the week it had seemed (to some of us) that perhaps the proposals needed a two-thirds legislative vote to take effect immediately, the higher threshold was really a demand from Dems that Republicans also be accountable for solving the state's $26.6 billion fiscal crisis.

The budget plan's drafters said that thanks to last fall's Proposition 25, both the actual budget bill and all joined "trailer bills" could be passed by a simple majority.

Even so, Senate Democrats went through the exercise Thursday of asking for a two-thirds vote on most every bill; then, when faced with GOP opposition, bringing each measure back up as a majority vote bill.

The most notable hurdle for that strategy also provided the day's biggest fireworks: one of the bills to implement a broad realignment of government services from state to local control -- in this case, the transfer of inmates from state prisons to local jails.

Debated first in the Senate, the proposal drew dire warnings from GOP senators about the miscreants headed to local communities lacking enough space and security to keep them all locked up.

After calling the measure a "vast social experiment," Sen. Sharon Runner (R-Lancaster) told Californians to "get a gun, buy a dog, and put an alarm system in."

That catch phrase was repeated by another Republican, finally leading Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF) to, no pun intended, unload on the minority party.

"Let it be known," said Leno, "that the party of 'no' is also the party of fear mongering."

And from there, things got testy (a demand for a formal apology), then lighter (jokes about dogs), and then moved on. But the anger on both sides was palpable. Later, Republicans challenged the legal authority to move the measure without a supermajority vote, but were rebuffed by both the Legislature's lawyers and, in the Assembly, by parliamentary procedure.

Testiness also permeated Assembly floor debate, where members from the two parties engaged in 'point of order' queries about house rules, etc.

For his part, Governor Brown had a much lower profile Thursday, not seen quite as often ducking into private meetings with legislators. But after a meeting with Senate Dems, Brown made it clear that he considers Republicans the problem -- especially those in the lower house, where his plan to abolish redevelopment agencies needs one more GOP pol to support it.

"I don’t believe they should just hide out and say, ‘We’re not talking, we’re not dealing, we’re not voting,'" said Brown to reporters. He then mused that perhaps the Assembly GOP caucus had found some kind of mystical talisman that would allow the budget to be balanced without cuts and without taxes.

No doubt Republicans would -- and did -- dispute that characterization. Several GOP members said if only Democrats would more strongly consider changes to public employee pensions, business regulations, and state worker compensation, then perhaps everyone could work together. Dems, however, argued that those ideas were just that -- ideas, and not drafted, fiscally scored proposals.

"Nothing you have suggested adds up," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

But even after $14 billion in solutions, the future of the Guv's budget plan remains very much in doubt. Left to tackle sometime soon are all of the proposals that require a supermajority vote, including the transfer of tobacco tax dollars away from 1998's Proposition 10, 2004's Proposition 63, the removal of the business tax break known as the elective single sales factor, and... the big kahuna... property tax dollars away (PDF) from almost 400 local redevelopment agencies (RDAs).

(The RDA battle, which dominated things on Wednesday, didn't even rear its ugly head in public on Thursday. That's how politically stuck it seemed to be.)

And then, the $11 billion pièce de résistance: Brown's 'take it to the people' extension of income, sales, and vehicle taxes expiring on June 30. Republicans will no doubt be bombarded by the party faithful's nervous chatter about the T word at this weekend's state GOP convention (being held across the street from the Capitol); whether that hinders negotiations through the end of the week is anyone's guess.

And somewhere deep in the recesses of either the gubernatorial suite of offices or those of Democrats upstairs, someone's surely now thinking about a plan B. If Republican demands for a special election are simply not acceptable to Dems... will the majority party go along with Brown's pledge for an 'all cuts' budget? Or will they, perhaps reluctantly, dust off that legal opinion (offered to them by the GOP) that says they can send the tax package to the ballot on a party-line vote?

If that last option is really being considered, there's not much time left to play that card. Friday is 81 days away from Brown's preferred June 7 election date -- and previous ponderings suggest they're getting into dangerous territory for local elections officials to pull it off.

Friday is 88 days from June 14 -- a much discussed backup date, and one that would suggest another week before getting to where we are now.

Later that that? Several observers have noted that each Tuesday after June 7 presents problems, from capturing voter attention to having enough time to craft an alternative budget if voters reject the taxes.

Deals often happen fast in Sacramento. That's a good thing for the Guv, because it looks as though he's going to need it.

RSS Subscribe

About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia 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. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • M Murphy

    State workers are left in limbo at work and in their personal lives. Speaking of “dogs” its seems the state workers are unwilling forced to be chasing their own tail trying to figure out how this will all roll out in the end and where they will end up finacially. By trying to balance the state budget on the back of the state worker, here’s the fall out: state workers faced an overnight 5% reduction in pay back in Feb 2009, then an addition 10% cut in pay around July 2009. They get 10% of their funds back, by dropping two furlough days, but then have to pay additonal %5 more towards their own retirement, and now hearing noise about a two day furlough being reinstated, equallying another 10%, which would then total a 19% decrease in take home pay. Meanwhile, many stateworkers were already facing ballon payment in their mortgage due the increase in interest reates, which already caused a drastic increase in their housepayment, while their paycheck goes down. The fall out: outstanding number of state workers lose their house to forecloser(which decreases the tax to be brought in and the houses are sold to others resulting in a mortgage payment that state worker could have afforded), others are in an ongoing two year battle with their banks waiting for them to agree to a budget modification or file bankruptcy (which wipes out the state from collecting back taxes); stop going out to eat or buying anything unnecessary (thus restrauants and retail stores start laying off and going out of business), stop donating to numerous charities (and then becomes one of those asking for assitance to same agency they use to automatically donate part of their check to), force numerous state workers into early retirement (while the PERS was already trying to figure out how to handle the sudden costly burst of baby boomers starting to retire).

    One way to help everyone in CA deal with the budget crises is to hold mortgage companies accountable for dealing with loan modifications fairly, timely, and honestly. It’s public knowledge that some are desperate to stay in their homes by requesting loan modifications to the point of “hiring” shark lawyers to deal with the “shark” mortgage companies, only digging themselves in deeper. The state is going after the lawyers to deal with lawyers making false promises, but what about the mortgage companies the lose your paper work over and over again, approve your loan after making you jump through loops (some times the same ones), then disapprove it two months later and then demand repayment for the difference between what your normal payment was and the trial period payment. How about the Governor telling the mortgage company they can’t keep people hanging for years on end and need to be held accountable to provide upfront and honest deals to help not just state workers, but everyone, since they’re getting stimulas money to do so. Does it make sense to foreclose on a home and turn around and sell it to someone else for a mortgage payment the one foreclosed on could have afforded, whose had they pay cut over night by the Gov?

    And now they want to reduce your pension so that means you will probably need to retire two to three years sooner then you wanted to, before they reduce your pension and have to work until you can collect social security at 62. State workers should take their fair share of cuts to help the budget crises, but not muliple on-going hits, while the legislatures vote themselves raises and get paid whether they show up to work or not. By the way, what did state workers do when they had three furlough days? They volunteered.

  • whathappened

    Why go through all the so called cuts and reasons. Here is the bottom line the liberals in the state have elected their stooges and they have given them everything they wanted the are addicted to 100. 200 and 300 thousand dollar pensions and huge paycheck The college teacher work about 200 hours a year and it goes on and on but it is a simple problem do they have more votes than us that is the only issue

  • hello

    @whathappened: How does one go about getting these pensions you guys are talking about? Is there a form you need to fill out and do the Republicans have this form? If so, could they please send it out? Because I don’t know of anyone who has anything close to that. But you know, for a pension like that I am willing to fill out even a very, very long form.