They ended the lockdown too soon in Sacramento.
For a few insane reasons, the Legislature worked late Sunday night after marathon weekend sessions led to missed Valentine's Day dates and naps at desks, but still no state budget agreement.
The Assembly's ready to pass it. The holdup: The endless "Where's Waldo?" hunt for one senator who will join Republican leader Dave Cogdill of Modesto and Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield in voting "yes" on the agreement. Except in this case, it's starting to appear that Waldo's not even in the picture.
"I've negotiated it to the point where I think it doesn't get any better," Cogdill said Wednesday. This weekend, Cogdill even offered to resign as minority leader though his caucus rejected it, according to The Los Angeles Times.
So the Senate Republicans don't want to vote for the budget, but they don't want to change leaders. What exactly do they want, other than a budget deal with no tax increases?
In exchange for his support, Ashburn won a $10,000 tax break for new homebuyers, a provision that's no more stimulus in California than it is at the federal level when the flood market of existing homes is taken into consideration.
For a while, it looked like Lou Correa, a waffling Democrat from Santa Ana elected on a no-tax pledge, might be Waldo. Saturday, lawmakers quickly added a provision to the package that would would give Orange County $35 million in additional property tax revenues in the coming fiscal year; $35 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year, and up to $50 million annually after that, according to The Sacramento Bee.
Correa's vote is crucial on the Democratic side because Cogdill says he won't give up more than the minimum three "yes" votes needed from Republicans.
Later, Fair Oaks Republican Dave Cox was a potential Waldo after negotiators agreed to let him offer amendments to redo the Proposition 10 child development programs, the Bee reported early Sunday. Even after much love and attention from Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cox remained in the "no" column.
Next up on the Waldo list: Abel Maldonado. In exchange for his vote, the Santa Maria Republican wanted nonpartisan state primary elections. It's a truly laudable goal, but is now the time and place?
And here's the overarching problem: Once Steinberg had to start playing "Let's Make A Deal" with his own members, all bets were off.
He and the other Big Five negotiators were on shaky ground with the public and the rest of the Legislature anyway because of the way the super-secret talks were conducted: Out of sight and with no input from the public. No input from the rest of the Legislature either, for that matter.
The thing is, though, Cogdill is right about the resulting compromise: It's as good as it gets.
In order to accept that, though, lawmakers have to reconcile themselves to the modern-day definition of compromise. It's not longer about getting a little bit of what you want -- that definition flew out the door for families the second the housing bubble started to burst.
These days, it's more about accepting a little bit of something odious in exchange for knowing the other side is doing the same.
In the case of the budget, liberals are being asked to swallow loosened environmental reviews and big corporate tax breaks. Republicans are being asked to put philosophical purity aside and approve tax hikes.
But not enough people seem to understand that the nature of the deal has changed. They've shown themselves to be masters of the old-style political deal -- extra tax revenue here, an election change there -- but they can't seem to grasp the new compromise calculus.
So lock them back up. And lock them up Assembly-style this time: Speaker Karen Bass was actually a better jailer than Steinberg, refusing to let her members even leave the chamber.
And keep them there until this package gets passed.
Photo: The Orange County Register