No Bad Deeds Go Unpunished

No good deed goes unpunished, saws the old saw. But in the case of the governor’s $487 million in vetoes it’s bad behavior that goes unpunished.

The deal reached among legislative leaders and the GOP governor to close an estimated $26 billion hole in the budget year that began July 1 includes numerous unpalatable actions most of which affect Democratic priorities – health care for poor children, aid to the aged, blind and disabled, in-home care for the elderly, just to tag the greatest hits.

The negotiated deal also included a hefty chunk of borrowing – and absconding – of local government revenue. Among the takes was $1 billion in gas tax revenues local governments receive which they use to fill potholes and finance other more expansive street and road improvements.

Gilding the lily, this was the equivalent of dental surgery without Novocain from the standpoint of cities and counties.

Quoth Paul McIntosh, head of the California State Association of Counties: “They are gutless swine who should be butchered and converted into something useful like back ribs, bacon and sausage. Short of that, legal papers will be piled upon them until their crushed bodies bleed from every orifice.”

(Editor’s Note: The fact-checker for California’s Capitol is vacationing. While the sentiment of counties over this budget action might well be accurately expressed in this quote there is some doubt in management’s mind such words were publicly uttered. Hence this caveat and notice of another letter of reprimand for the chief correspondent.)

Nonetheless, in the closed-door meetings, all four legislative leaders – Democrats and Republicans – held their noses and agreed to take a big bite of the offal sandwich and grab the local gas tax money.

When former Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton came to Sacramento as a freshman Assemblyman in 1964 no one clapped him on the back and said, Geez Louise, you sure are a man of your word, Johnny.”

In fact, no one in the Legislature was ever complimented for keeping their word because it was a given. It was – and still should be – a fundamental tenet of how legislative and gubernatorial business is transacted.

Three decades later in is legislative career, Burton was often complimented for being a man of his word, which bugged him some but not nearly as much as being mistaken for John Vasconcellos.

Point being: If someone who keeps their word is now worthy of citation then, clearly, it is no longer the foundation upon which policy determinations are built.

To its credit, the Senate approved the recent budget deal as negotiated. There were no cartwheels or somersaults or glowing oratory over its merits – of which there were none – but the upper house kept their word and bit the scat sandwich.

No so in Assembly. Maybe that’s why it’s called the lower house. Assembly Republicans under their leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo balked at approving the local gas tax piece.

That left a $1 billion hole in the negotiated settlement, sharply reducing the reserve account contained in the plan which, given California’s pole-axed economy is important to have. Particularly since most budget observers predict that when the state conducts its revenue forecasts in October for the governor’s January budget the situation will be infinitely more dire than conceived of at the moment..

So what’s a governor to do? The budget reserve is decimated by failure of his fellow Republicans to live up to the bargain they agreed to. Nothing left to do but sharpen the blue pencil and line out some spending to create a bigger cushion for the October inevitable. 

Does the governor rap a ruler down on the knuckles of the gone-south Assembly Republicans who broke the deal they negotiated? Absolutely. He very harshly wiped out Williamson Act subventions, an important program for rural counties, which are largely represented by Republicans. A brutal $28 million blood bath. Hard to imagine a harsher poke-in-the-eye in a $100 billion – yeah, with a B — budget scheme.

The policy demerits of tubing the Williamson Act, which helps keep open land from being developed rather than turned into condos and housing tracts that generate more commuters and greenhouse gases – something the governor wants to reduce – will be debated another time.

Listen: Of the governor’s $487 million in vetoes about $450 million were hits on priorities of Democrats who, at least in the Senate, kept their word.

A less-than-objective cataloguing of the governor’s vetoes by Assemblyman John Perez lays it out fairly well. Some highlights:

— A 15 percent reduction in the Early Start program

— An additional $50 million cut in Healthy Families, which offers health care for low-income children.

— $38 million less for in-home care for the elderly

These would be further reductions in the things the Democrats tried to prevent harsher reductions by the governor.

Democrats took a bite out of the manure sandwich, the lesser of the evils, and their reward is $450 million of programs important to them trashed by the governor.

Maybe that’s why Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg offered this, albeit somewhat tepid statement about the vetoes:

“We will fight to restore every dollar of additional cuts to health and human services. The Senate held the line and passed a budget revision package with a sufficient reserve that met the Governor’s test.”

With respect to the Pro Tem, Senate Democrats held up their end of the bargain and got shafted worse than they were already. The folks that weaseled out went largely unpunished.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. 


Filed under: Venting


  1. “Decimated” = cut by 10%. Old Roman military practice. Check it out. And tell the governor.

    Comment by D Mitchell — 7.31.2009 @ 6:00 am

  2. While I support providing health care to children it is hard to feel sorry for cuts to a program where the kids parents are parking a 80K motor home in the yard to pull the toy-trailer containing 6 ATV’s for family fun at # bucks a gallon. And the in home program is full of fraud that the Democrats have defended so a hair cut was needed. With all of that said I too long for the days of keeping your word.

    Comment by Management Slug — 7.31.2009 @ 9:06 am

  3. The Assembly Dems also failed to approve oil drilling, costing the budget deal $100 million this year. Some of those cuts are Arnold getting back at Karen Bass for not holding her caucus together.

    Comment by Fred — 7.31.2009 @ 12:15 pm

  4. Even with all these cuts, the state is still in trouble financially! We are in a shock for the next years.

    Comment by Walk in Bathtubs — 10.09.2009 @ 3:14 pm

  5. Re: $38 million less for in-home care for the elderly

    This is really short-sighted. Florida has proven it can save 60% on Medicare costs by moving the elderly out of nursing homes back into their homes. In-home care is cheaper.

    Comment by Walk-in tubs — 10.20.2009 @ 9:34 am

  6. in home care maybe save much .and now there are many equipment help people to be independent at home .

    Comment by walk in tub — 5.18.2010 @ 7:01 pm

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