Visiting the battlefield

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    From the Publisher/ Arnold York

    Early Wednesday morning, Jan. 15, I’m hopping a Southwest Airlines flight to Sacramento for the annual gathering of the California Newspaper Publishers Association to meet with all the other California publishers, get an earful of an update and then lobby the Legislature. The annual pilgrimage to Sacramento used to be a friendly ritual-a few handshakes, a cocktail party at some local landmark (this year, the Golden State Museum), a few not terribly informative presentations by our state’s leaders and home the next day. Most every trade association does it, and ours has been doing it for more than 100 years.

    But this year is different, very different.

    Right off I can tell it’s crises time because the speakers include Democrats Gov. Gray Davis, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and Senate Pro Tem John Burton; and Republicans Senate minority leader Jim Brulte and Assembly minority leader David Cox. No one is saying, ‘I can’t make it,’ because they all can, and want to make it.

    The reason they can is the state is in a terrible dilemma, looking to be more than $35 billion in the red over the next 18 months. With an annual budget of roughly $100 billion, that is a lot of bucks to be in the red. Now, they’re all coming for different reasons, but the prime reason is that none of them wants to be saddled with the blame for this financial fiasco. They all want to explain that this shortfall is really the other guy’s fault.

    The ball is primarily in Gov. Davis’ court, which means he’s the guy who has to propose the fix to try and get us out of this mess. He’s got his work cut out for him because:

    • The governor has got to cut or delay programs. He’s got no choice. He’s got no money.
    • He’s got to cut the size of the government. That means layoffs. Again he’s got no choice.
    • State employees are going to have to forego, or even roll back, raises.
    • The counties and cities are going to take a hit.
    • Schools, which are one of the major items, are going to take a hit.

    The Democrats are all screaming-You’re going to do this on the backs of the poor, the children, the weak, the sick, the uninsured, the disenfranchised. But, the truth is, we are. The only thing up for debate is who takes the biggest hit, and it’s a safe bet that those with the least clout, meaning children, the poor and the sick, will get the worst of it.

    The Republicans are also screaming their mantra. No new taxes! No new fees! The Republicans say we’re driving the cost of business up and driving businesses out of the state. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t matter because we’ve got no money and the budget deficit is happening now and we have to fix it now. We don’t have time to worry about long-term impacts.

    Now the Republicans are fibbing a bit because they know in the end there has to be some new taxes and some new fees, or there’s not going to be a state budget. They also know the governor can’t pass a budget without some of their votes, because a budget requires a super majority. So if their leadership can hold them together in a common front and they hang tough for as long as they can, ultimately the governor’s got to make concessions to get a budget fix. Meanwhile, I suspect they’re in no hurry. Davis is the one who’s going to be twisting in the wind. Some Californians may turn on the Democratic party, so I suspect the Republicans are not too eager too jump in to help out. It’s possible that Davis could pick up a few disgruntled, termed-out Republican votes and get his budget, but he’s still got problems with his own party because some, like Burton, are not going to go along if their favorite programs are cut back or eliminated.

    Meanwhile, the governor also has to decide what he wants to do about the California Coastal Commission. The coastal commissioners want a guaranteed four-year term, where they’re answerable to no one but God. I doubt the governor will go for that. More likely, the governor will agree to call a special session if he gets a majority on the Coastal Commission. Since it is an executive agency, he probably could insist on his majority control, a plan that most of the enviros don’t like. It’s too early to tell how the budget politics will impact the Coastal Commission politics. The governor could decide that he can only fight one major war at a time and go along with whatever fix the Legislature can agree on. I suspect I’ll know more after I get back from Sacramento.