SACRAMENTO BEE EDITORIAL
Wednesday, September 3, 2008 -- Once again, the state of California is a national disgrace.
Its budget is now 65 days late. Its legislative session ended Sunday in embarrassing fashion. Health clinics are running out of money because of the impasse. Schools are starting without spending plans in place.
And it likely will get worse. With divisions running so deep among Democrats, Republicans, the governor's office, the Senate and the Assembly, lawmakers are becoming desperate. Surely they are tempted to slam through a budget that raids funds and uses gimmicks to delay the tough choices until next year. Such an outcome would be a disaster. It would extend the budget crisis until at least 2010, hurt the state's debt rating and make it less likely that California will come to terms with challenges ranging from health care to water.
Who's responsible for this mess? Start with the seven leaders at right who helped create it. The star ratings under their photographs (rendered, appropriately enough, in red ink) indicate the wretchedness of their performance on budget issues. The more stars, the worse.
• Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines. He opposes tax proposals by Democrats and the governor, yet hasn't laid out what combination of cuts, including cuts to education, he'd support to eliminate a $15.2 billion budget deficit. Why not? Is he afraid of how teachers in his district would react to such cuts?
• Senate Republican leader Dave Cogdill. His caucus has put together a budget proposal, but as of mid-Tuesday, it still wasn't ready for floor debate in the Senate. Like Villines, he seems comfortable with massive borrowing to duck this budget jam. So much for fiscal responsibility.
• Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. Perata has so far held the line against borrowing, but why did he wait until now to do the drill of daily Senate sessions? And why does he continue to take money from groups – such as the California Correctional Peace Officers Association – that have a direct interest in the budget he is negotiating?
• Darrell Steinberg, Perata's successor. Steinberg has stayed on the sidelines and says he is comfortable with how Perata is handling the budget negotiations. Is that really what he thinks? Does he call that leadership?
• Assembly Speaker Karen Bass. She's a nice person. But is she too nice? Why has she abdicated the pace of the budget deliberations to Perata? Will she hold firm on a pledge not to raid local funds?
• Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Does this guy have a strategy? He pulls gimmicks like threatening to cut the pay of state workers. Then he pledges to veto all bills sent to his desk until a budget is passed. The latter ploy may only prompt Republicans to become more intransigent, since most bills passed this year came from Democrats.
• Pete Wilson. The former governor helped bridge a budget deficit in 1991 by approving a $7 billion tax increase, far more than what Schwarzenegger has proposed this year. Yet Wilson seems more interested in salvaging his ties with the GOP's far right than in helping a successor. On Monday, Wilson criticized Schwarzenegger's tax proposal, undercutting what little leverage the governor has left.
The members of this star-studded lineup deserve to hear from you. If they don't, you can't blame them for appearing indifferent to your concerns.
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Former Gov. Pete Wilson: No e-mail address