You can count on one hand the number of times California’s had a budget in place by July first over the last twenty years. It’s sort of expected. Reporters and staffers make bets about how late things will go. And this year has been off to an extraordinarily slow start – and according to some political experts, marked by a real lack of urgency:
“There is absolutely a lack and it’s borne as much of political discord as it is of desperation.”
That’s Leo McElroy, an independent political consultant based in Sacramento. He says it’s no surprise lawmakers aren’t eager to deal with the state’s 19 billion dollar shortfall:
“There’s a resignation almost in all this that there’s no really good solution to anything. Anything they do is going to be politically unpopular. Anything they do is going to be painful and politicians hate pain.”
One reason for the slower start has been division among Democrats. The Senate and Assembly Democrats had two separate budget plans. However Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg says they are now coming together:
“We really are on the same page. Where we stand is this, that this state ought to have the best public education system in the country and we ought to have a strong safety net for the needy and we ought to invest in job creation.
Steinberg says they’ve agreed upon a framework that allows them to move forward in negotiations with the Governor. Schwarzenegger has proposed deep budget cuts to welfare programs – and Democrats are hoping to avoid those. However, Democrats are pushing for a tax on oil – and a rollback of corporate tax breaks, things the Governor and Republicans don’t agree with. The sides are still very far apart. But GOP Senator Bob Huff says it’s more important to act wisely than quickly:
“While I’d love to have it in place I’d rather it be a good budget than a hasty budget.”
While there’s been talk at the Capitol of a budget stalemate that could drag on for months, Senate Leader Steinberg’s a little more optimistic:
“This does not have to be a long long hot summer.”
Both the State Treasurer and the State controller are hoping it’s not. Both say a prolonged budget impasse could hurt the state’s already low credit rating.