Thursday, August 28, 2008


By Dan Walters - Sacramento Bee Columnist

August 28 - So where is the state of California's struggle with a long-overdue, deficit-ridden state budget headed?  Nowhere fast.

Sometime this week, perhaps already, the drop-dead date for placing measures on the November ballot passes, thus adding another level of complexity to the multi-sided political struggle over whether the $15.2 billion deficit in the 2008-09 budget will be closed by new taxes, spending cuts, more loans or some combination thereof.

Although Secretary of State Debra Bowen refuses — somewhat faintheartedly — to impose a hard deadline, local election officials are scheduled to mail ballots to overseas voters next week.

It would be virtually impossible for politicians to add more measures, even though certain aspects of any budget deal probably require voter approval, without disenfranchising soldiers in combat and embarrassing themselves even further.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, is driving his political credibility even lower, if that is possible, by saying he'll sign some legislation to revise the $9.95 billion bond issue for high-speed rail that's already on the ballot.

Schwarzenegger had pledged not to sign any bill until a budget is passed, including the rail bond measure, but now says he will.

It's not the first time that Schwarzenegger has drawn a line in the political sandbox, promising to do or not do something, and then reneged.

He did it, for instance, when he endorsed a measure to modify legislative term limits after saying he wouldn't do it unless it was paired with redistricting reforms.

More recently, he's backtracked on his pledge to balance the state budget without new taxes and is now pushing a sales tax boost.

Every time Schwarzenegger does one of these political flips, his political credibility sinks a little lower, making it that much more difficult for anyone to take any of his pronouncements seriously and that much more difficult for him to broker a budget deal.

Politics may be an unseemly trade at times, but among politicians themselves, there's a certain code of honor about keeping one's word.

Schwarzenegger violates that code as casually as he changes his socks.

The issue isn't whether some new taxes of some kind aren't needed to close the budget gap; they most certainly are. But that's been known for months, and Schwarzenegger shouldn't have taken the no-new-taxes pledge if he wasn't prepared to honor it.

Even more curiously, Schwarzenegger's flip-flop on taxes isn't really advancing the cause of responsible budgeting.

His proposed new taxes, as well as other revenue proposals, would be in effect for only a few years, after which the state's structural deficit would return — but by then it would be another governor's problem.

It's becoming evident that Schwarzenegger will say and do anything — as well as sign anything — to slide through the remainder of his governorship, and then dump his mess in someone else's lap.

He's rapidly approaching buffoonery.

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