Lock Them in Until it Passes

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