Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Hey Big Daddy,
The national economic outlook is bleak, but it doesn’t look much better here in California. What’s your take on the budget mess?
Ernie in Encino

Hey Ernie,

Thanks for your question. Allow me to step down off this ledge and regale you with one of my typically thoughtful (three-cocktail) answers.

For those of you who haven’t been playing along at home, the governor wrote a little letter to his buddy Hank Paulson in Washington last week – just a little heads-up that the largest state in the union has about drained it’s piggybank, and might need a little help nailing down $7 billion bucks or so. You know, just to pay for dinner and a movie, or something.

And for good measure, it looks like this turducken of a state budget has already been revealed for what it is – a work of fantasy more imaginative than a Harry Potter novel. And I love me some Harry Potter. It turns out that – surprise, surprise – we’re already a few billion short in our spending for this year. And outgoing Senate Leader Don Perata guesses we could be back in the Gray Davis pit by next year. (That’s the place with the $15 billion deficit that we found ourselves in back in 2003, when we threw the governor out of office.)

The only thing that’s changed between today and three weeks ago is the Senate leadership. Well, sort of. Don Perata’s still in charge, but he did invite Darrell Steinberg to tag along for Wednesday’s meeting. It will be good practice for Steinberg, to see republican recalic trance up close and personal. But I for one am hard-pressed to think that the addition of three weeks, and one body is going to help things along much. Color me cynical.

But my friends (sorry, it’s a rhetorical tick I picked up from overdosing on campaign coverage), fear not! The Big 5 and-a-half is on the case! Here were are just three weeks after the longest budget stalemate in California history talking about the exact same problems that we were wrestling with three weeks ago. There are only two ways out of this one – less spending or more revenues. Anyone got any good ideas?

How about a stupidity tax? Or charging admission for people to watch journalists being laid off via speakerphone in the town square? We’re trying to get creative here.

I’m sure that in the end, we’ll get it in the end. The great budget acrobats will devise some wonderfully imaginative package of revenue accelerators coming down the pike soon. You know, the type that are one-time fixes to big-time problems, but can also pass the Legislature without a single Republican vote? The kind that the Republicans endorse, and say they can live with, but would never put up a single vote to support.

In a nutshell, it’s hard not to imagine that we’re all in for a healthy dose of more of the same. Of course, maybe it will take the Wall Street meltdown to birth some kind of leadership inside the Capitol. But I’m hard-pressed to find a road map of how we get there.

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