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Monday, February 16, 2009

Republicans Hold Budget Process Hostage--Their Math Does Not Add Up

Valentine’s Day came and went, and still there was no budget. On deep into the night it continued, desperately trying to find one more Republican Senator brave enough to end this nightmare, to cast the yes vote, and to save the state of California from fiscal turmoil the likes of which it has not seen before in this lifetime or many others. And yet on Sunday, there were no heroes.

First, the word came that Dave Cox, the Senator from the Sacramento Area could be the third vote. But late on Saturday night or Sunday morning, he said no.

The Sacramento Bee took the highly unusual step of issuing an email alert with an online editorial:

“Call Senator Cox and urge him to be a hero.”

The story read:

“As implausible as it may sound, a single vote by state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, could determine if the Legislature saves California from going over a financial cliff.”

But it was not to be. The next word came that perhaps it could be Sen. Abel Maldonado who had shunned the budget largely over his riff with Controller Chiang on office furniture. The Capitol Weekly suggested on Facebook that he might be convinced over the creation of an open primary. But that too was fleeting.

And so here we are, Monday morning, waiting still for a miracle.

The logic here makes no sense. California needs a budget. Someone has to step up and say yes.

No one likes this budget. It cuts deeply into education and other spending. It raises taxes.

The LA Times on Saturday reported that firms would get over one billion dollars in tax breaks while the average person would pay higher taxes.

“The average Californian's taxes would shoot up five different ways in the state budget blueprint that lawmakers hope to vote on this weekend. But the bipartisan plan for wiping out the state's giant deficit isn't so bad for large corporations, many of which would receive a permanent windfall.”

Bottom line it is a bad budget, but it is one that must be passed. But the Republicans continue to hold out. Despite all indications that they have to raise taxes. It has to be done.

George Skelton in his column this morning, does the math
. His conclusion:

“To avoid raising taxes and still balance the books in Sacramento, you'd have to virtually shut down state government.”

Is that the goal of the Repulbicans? Shut down Sacramento?

“The basics: The state has a projected $41-billion deficit through June 30, 2010. It's almost out of cash. Bills are not getting paid. Tax refunds aren't being mailed. Construction work is stopped. Bonds can't be sold.”

Back in December the Republicans issued forth their one and only plan, it continued zero tax increases and all spending. But guess what, that plan came up with only half of what was needed to balance the budget. Skelton continues:

“The problem for GOP politicians, however, is that 52% of Republicans favor eradicating the red ink "mostly through spending cuts."

But the numbers don't add up. The Legislature's two Republican leaders -- Assemblyman Mike Villines of Clovis and Sen. Dave Cogdill of Modesto -- came to that realization in December as they dug through the budget books. They also knew that even if it were possible to avoid tax hikes, their GOP colleagues didn't have the stomach for the kinds of slashing that would be needed in school, healthcare and prison programs.

"The only alternative now," Villines said Saturday, "is to literally go insolvent and over the cliff. And many of us believe that is irresponsible and giving up our constitutional responsibilities."”

Skelton lays out the math in dizzying terms. If you layoff all the state workers under the control of the governor, that would only be $24.4 billion. But to do that you would have to dump 160,000 convicted felons onto the streets with the prisons being closed and the guards and warden fired. There would also be no Highway Patrol. No state parks. And as Skelton points out that wouldn’t even give you $24.4 billion because some of the employees are paid from special funds that are self-sustaining.

The legislature could be eliminated for another $400 million over 16 months which is a drop in the bucket.

“What many people don't realize is that around three-fourths of the state's general fund flows out to schools and local governments, much of it because of voter-passed laws.

But there is another place to look for savings: You could cut off all state money to higher education -- the two university systems and the community colleges. That would save the remaining $16 billion.”

He continues.

“Don't like any of the above -- all those firings and slamming college doors on kids?

Instead, you could eliminate virtually all state money for healthcare and social services -- grants for the aged, blind and disabled, assistance for the homebound, medical care for the poor, mental health treatment, welfare. . . . No exceptions.

Of course, you'd then be turning away tons of money from Washington, which shares the costs. And you would be violating some federal laws. But there, it's done. You've avoided a tax increase. What a state!”

The math is there. George Skelton does the math. You have to raise taxes. No one wants to do that. No one. But what choice do we have? Shutdown our government? $41 billion is just a very large number. There are many things in this budget Democrats hate with a fiery passion. This is not a budget they want to pass. They had to compromise with the Governor to get it as far as they did. They have shown themselves willing to work with the legislative Republicans, but beyond the leadership there seems to be zero responsible Republicans in the legislature. How can that be? How can a group that represents 37% of the elected legislature bring this government to its knees?

How is it that Californians have allowed this to happen? Hopefully today, Republican lawmakers after a good night sleep bite the bullet and do the right thing. Otherwise, come Tuesday, things start falling out of the trees and the picture gets more ugly than it already is.

---David M. Greenwald report