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Arnold G. York

Sacramento chicken games

If you follow the news from our state Capitol, you’d know that we do not yet have a state budget in place. We’re required by law to have a state budget approved by July 1 of each year. It’s one of those laws that are ignored more often than followed.

You might very well ask, how does this happen?

For one thing, passing a state budget requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature and the governor’s signature. That means the Democrats, even though they have a majority in the Legislature, can’t pass a budget unless they pick up a few Republican legislators to reach the magic fraction of two-thirds. This year that has proved to be tough for a number of reasons that I’ll explain later.

The answer you’d get about how this sorrow state of affairs came about would vary greatly, depending on whom you’re talking to.

If you asked the Republicans in the Senate, they would tell you they are the last line of defense against all those “tax and spend Democrats” who want to buy now and pay later, and they (the Republicans) have taken a principled stand for fiscal responsibility against state deficits.

If you ask the Democrats in the Senate, they would tell you that Republicans are a group of conservative, no-spend Neanderthals who refuse to address the reality that there are almost 38 million people in California and that number grows at about 500,000 per year, which means we need more of almost everything just to stay even.

If you ask the Assembly, they’d tell you they got a budget out and then privately say that perhaps the Senate just can’t get the job done and perhaps if the governor would get in there and roll up his sleeves instead of doing photo ops all over the country we’d soon have a budget.

If you ask the governor, he’d tell you that negotiation seems to work best when the two Democratic leaders from each House meet with their counterparts on the Republican side and achieve some sort of consensus, or are so beat up and worn out from battling with each other that they actually welcome the governor’s participation. But until then, it’s a waste of time.

The truth is, there is a little bit of reality in what they all say and also a hell of a lot of political posturing.

The California annual budget is about $140-plus billion dollars, and currently the sides in the budget negotiation are about $700 million apart, which amounts to about half of one percent. To put it into a more manageable perspective, think of it this way. If you’re selling a house for $1 million (certainly not in Malibu) and you get an offer for $995,000 that would be a 0.005 percent difference between the listing and the offer. That’s how far apart the parties are on this budget.

So why don’t they just compromise? I suspect it’s more personal than fiscal. For one thing, through most of the legislative session it doesn’t much matter what the Republicans do because the Democrats have the votes to pass anything they want. The governor is a Westside urban Republican, which means on many issues he is considerably less conservative than his party in either house of the Legislature. This doesn’t always endear him to many members of his own party, some of whom don’t trust him very much. The only time the Republicans get to exercise any clout is when the budget comes around and that’s when they remember how badly the Democrats have treated them all year. And they’re not inclined to be reasonable. Besides, most have been elected from very conservative districts, so taking a hard line on most everything doesn’t endanger them politically. Besides, it’s about the only time they have any political leverage with the Democrats, and they have their own wish list. Usually it ends when the governor suggests some compromises and then sweetens the pot for a few of the Republican members of the Legislature to get their votes. We’re probably fairly close to that point. The Republicans have been able to maintain party discipline so far, but ultimately they have to vote in a budget, which they all know, and that discipline will break. Then shortly thereafter they’ll all point fingers at each other and spend the next month arguing about who chickened out first.