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Yet another California budget impasse drags on

by Bob Morris, published

I'm running out of metaphors to describe the endlessly stalled California budget negotiations. Is it a train wreck, with two contrary forces colliding with each other? Or is it more like the Keystone Kops, with incompetent buffoons rushing around being self-important yet accomplishing little? Perhaps it's really more like two kindergarteners having a fight on the playground, each accusing the other of starting it, complete with temper tantrums.

How long has this being going on? Quite a while, yet there's been precious little in the way of results or forward motion. The Legislature labored mightily and last week approved budget cuts of $14 billion, which accounts for about half of the deficit and which predictably impacts the already vulnerable such as low-income families and the disabled. In an odd quirk, these are the very same constituents who are least likely to give campaign contributions, something which surely must be a coincidence.

The legislature dodged voting on more contentious issues of whether to dismantle redevelopment agencies and call a special election in June to ask voters to extend a tax increase. I'm not surprised. The partisans on both sides of those issues have actual clout and power, unlike Grandpa who needs an oxygen machine to get around and can't defend his interests. The absolute drop-dead date for the legislature to vote on the special election has come and gone. Elections generally need three months of lead time for the state to prepare, but that deadline is now said to be flexible, as if they have a choice.

So, rather than vote on the tough stuff, they adjourned because Republicans had to prepare for their state convention, which was held over the weekend. No, really, I am not making this up. A crucial vote affecting all Californians was delayed by agreement of both parties because Republicans had the far more crucial job of going to their convention. Well, at least we know what their true priorities are - and they have little to do with the citizens of California. This is hardly an isolated instance. Last year the legislature adjourned for the entire month of August rather than deal with the budget. And here I had the crazy idea that we elected them to get stuff done.

If the legislature doesn't pass the special election, or if it does, and the tax measures fails, then Gov. Brown will institute the Mother of All Doomsday Budgets, which will slash $12 billion more from the already decimated budget. If this happens, expect shock and awe among the populace as they see education, health care, prisons, parks, and everything else, including their pet projects, face steep and merciless spending cuts.

Rest assured, both parties are stonewalling, protecting their special interests, and seem disinterested in compromising or reaching a solution. Republicans refuse to consider any tax increases, while Democrats steadfastly ignore gaping and growing public pension deficits. Both are pandering to their donor base. Both are ignoring reality. We're back to the kindergarteners having that fight on the playground, aren't we?

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