Free Political Advice — Worth Every Penny
Examining the Senate’s budgetary actions of June 24 from a political rather than a policy perspective, the majority party Democrats may not have achieved their objectives.
The measure brought up for consideration in the morning by the 40-member upper house would reduce state spending by roughly $11 billion as part of a budget-balancing plan offered by Democrats to close an estimated $24 billion shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
While GOP votes are not needed to enact cuts, if two Republicans joined the Senate’s 25 Democrats to create a super-majority, the reductions could take effect 90 days earlier.
That was not the case as Republicans voted against the bill along with two Democrats – Lou Correa of Santa Ana and Leland Yee of San Francisco.
Republicans contended the measure was a partial solution to a much bigger fiscal problem and, therefore, unworthy of their support.
“Today, we are voting on a $11 billion solution to a $24 billion problem. This is not only partial and incomplete but because it is both those things it is not a solution,” said Senate Republican Leader Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta.
“We have eight days until the state’s checks are no good. We have eight days before our credit rating is seriously downgraded. We have to get serious and solve the problem.”
Democrats countered the measure was one in a 20-bill package to close the entire budget gap – a package that includes $2 billion in new taxes and a significant amount of one-time savings that will contribute to a deeper budget hole next year.
However, Democrats said that if Republicans failed to support the cuts included in the plan there was no reason to waste time debating the other bills.
“We have to find our way home because at the end of that path is a $24 billion solution. Today we’ve taken the first steps,” said Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat.
“Please show us your way home. How do you get us from $11 (billion) to $24 billion? We’ve shown you. Where is your plan Mr. Minority Leader?”
Judging from the remarks of Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, the intent of the exercise was to illustrate that Democrats are unwilling to cut as deeply into social programs as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and to portray Republican lawmakers as obstructionist or hypocritical or both for not backing the cuts embraced by Democrats.
“Democrats are asking Republicans to vote for billions of dollars in cuts and apparently your answer today is ‘no,’ Steinberg said. “Why won’t you cut? Why won’t you cut?”
It’s doubtful Senate Republicans will lose sleep – or elections – voting against $11 billion in cuts, particularly when $4.9 billion of them fall on public schools.
In a purely political sense, the “bad” vote is the one cast by Democrats, ostensibly champions of public education, who – if the February budget they backed is included – have chosen to reduce state support of schools by more than $12 billion over a two-year period.
Republicans can portray their “no” vote as a refusal to cut nearly $5 billion more from public schools.
Perhaps a more effective illustration of support for what Democrats call the safety net would be to bring several of the GOP governor’s more draconian proposals to a vote.
It seems unlikely Schwarzenegger’s call to eliminate California’s welfare program would garner the votes necessary for passage. Nor would the governor’s proposal to end state grants to lower-income high school students to help them attend college.
After rejecting those and possibly other gubernatorial proposals then a vote on the more modest – more humane – measure with $11 billion in cuts might more satisfactorily frame the issue.
As it is, it seems like yet another opportunity in which Republicans avoid political fallout just as Democrats allowed them to do during the February budget debate, which occurred primarily in private.
In response, Aaron McLear, the governor’s press secretary, said this:
“Legislators have known for over a week that their package was a non-starter because it increased taxes and did not cut deep enough. Their insistence on running a floor drill has cost the state valuable time and pushed us closer to insolvency. The Legislature now must make the necessary cuts or allow the state to go off a cliff.”
Sen. Bob Dutton, a Rancho Cucamonga Republican, offered a divergent view:
“We’re already off the cliff, the landing is what we have to be concerned about. We’re just accelerating to a faster crash. You’re just dragging the pain out.”
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