Big Daddy

Hey Ken,
How ‘bout those budget negotiations. They’re over – at least for now – and the blame game is under way. How would you fix this?
–Confused in Calexico

Dear Confused,
You have to know how to cut a deal. You have to give something, get something and declare victory. You have to go away smiling. You have to know when to stop. You have to know when to relax. For me, it was reading the Racing Form at my desk or taking time off at the El Rancho in West Sac. But everybody’s different. You have to play the press like a violin.

Gov. Brown used to get a justified rap as a guy with a short attention span. He’s negotiated eight state budgets, not including our latest fiasco. But this time around, his attention span has clearly increased. He tried for three months and couldn’t get any Republican support, even for a budget that includes $11.2 billion in cuts and an extension of taxes that already were approved earlier.

Those cuts – school closures, public safety reductions – are going to start showing up in lawmakers’ districts, including Republican districts.

They say nothing ever dies in the Capitol, and that may be true with budget negotiations, too, so this latest round may not be dead after all.

But right now, they are.

So here’s how you fix this. You hook the entire budget package together with double-joined trailers. A vote for one is a vote for all. If you can’t get two-thirds votes, you vote it out with majority votes.

This is a plus for Republicans, who can distance themselves from this budgetary train wreck. Where my caucus colleagues went wrong was to oppose placing the taxes and cuts on the ballot. The best advice to Republicans this year actually came from Brown, who said they should vote to place it on the ballot, then go out and campaign against it. They would have had their cake and eaten it, too: They could have publicly opposed the taxes and they could have appeared favoring the people by giving them the chance to vote.

Then, they could have gone out and trashed it. And of course, the budget was doomed to failure at the polls, which means the Reeps would have been on the right side of an issue, for once.

And then the finale: By rejecting taxes, Brown would have to live up to his promise to produce an all-cuts budget. He probably would get Republican votes for it, but how ‘bout his fellow Democrats? News coverage would focus on the Dems, by the way, and Republicans would be treated pretty gently, given that everyone things they like to slash and burn anyway.

So that’s how Reeps can defeat Brown – approve the ballot plan and then defeat it.

And make no mistake, the budget package will be defeated. It’s toast.

The far more dangerous options for Republicans will be to forget the special election, and have Democrats push through a budget by majority vote. There’s legal justification for this from the Legislative Counsel, although as soon as it happened there would be a lawsuit.

If that happens, and the Dems prevail, the Republicans will be irrelevant in the Capitol.

So stay relevant, cut the deal, hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire and live to fight another day.

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