The California legislature must agree by a two-thirds vote to hold the June 8 special election that is essential to Gov. Brown's attempts to balance the budget. If approved, voters would be asked to support $12 billion in budget cuts and to extend existing tax hikes for five more years, increasing revenues by an equal amount.
However, Brown does not yet have the votes to get the election approved. A two-thirds majority is a high threshold indeed, and Democrats as well as Republican legislators are balking. All too predictably, Democrats generally oppose spending cuts while Republicans are adamant about no new taxes. This is the same tiresome ideological deadlock that created much of the budget problem in the first place.
The governor says Democratic legislators are "not there yet" while he sees a "lot of good will" from Republicans. Well, this seems more like wishful thinking than a concrete plan. His plan is indeed a bold one. Take it to the voters and ask them to approve the cuts and taxes or be prepared for vastly more severe cuts. If voters say no or the election is not held at all, then the ongoing train wreck that is the California budget will unquestionably get much more serious. Time has run out. Action is needed.
Further complicating things, proposed cuts in spending for the disabled, poor, and aged are almost certain to be challenged in court as such benefits are federally mandated. Gov. Brown is asking for a waiver from the U.S. Health and Human Services to allow him make the cuts. In an almost Kafkaesque scenario, Dan Walters of the SacBee says such spending cuts would demonstrate that Democrats are robustly serious about tackling the budget problems. However, it could backfire if challenged in court because then, voters might assume that was the expected outcome and the whole gambit was merely a cynical ploy. But really, there must be a better way to balance the budget than by slashing assistance for granny who is hobbling around in a walker or to use such assistance as a bargaining chip.
In related budget news, Brown canceled the sale of state buildings proposed by Schwarzenegger after it was determined this would cost the state far more in the long-term. This is a laudable move, but also means the state must "borrow" $800 million more from special funds, an unfortunate practice that has been going on for far too long. This is akin to borrowing on a credit card to pay current debt. It's a desperation move.
Finally, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office says the current level on spending on state pensions is unsustainable and should be cut back. They recommend reducing pensions for all new hires, including the University of California system, teachers, and county workers as well as state employees.
If the special election is approved and passes, California faces severe cutbacks that will impact everyone. If it doesn't pass, the next round of budget cuts will be brutal indeed. Either way, California faces a difficult future.