Budget impasse must end

The budget plan pending before the state Senate was approved by the Assembly and is supported by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. On our floor, all 25 Democrats and one GOP senator have voted in its favor. But the Senate’s minority party–the Republicans, which have 15 of the chamber’s 40 seats–has now stopped the work of the state.

Payments to nursing homes, daycare centers and health clinics are not going out. Schools and community colleges aren’t receiving all their money just as classes are about to start. Transportation projects to free up traffic gridlock are being put on hold.

Innocent Californians who are required to do their job every day are being hurt by rogue Republicans who refuse to do their job: provide the state with a spending plan on or near the start of the fiscal year.

We’ve worked for weeks to understand what Republicans need to vote for this budget. We’ve negotiated in good faith. Every time we thought we understood what Senate Republicans wanted, their position changed. The governor has tried to accommodate them, too, but now even he is puzzled as to what it will take to close the deal.

This is a budget Republicans should be proud of. They should be voting for it and taking a victory lap. It has no new taxes, fees or social programs. It contains a $3.4 billion reserve–$1.2 billion higher than what the governor proposed. The operating deficit, which in earlier versions of the budget was as high as $2.7 billion, has been reduced to $700 million, because Democrats accepted painful cuts to address Republican concerns.

Then Senate Republicans said they wanted the operating deficit to be zero. And so the governor has pledged to blue pencil that $700 million out of the budget. Somehow, it’s not enough.

Democrats made many concessions. We accepted $1.3 billion in cuts since the conference committee closed. These harsh cuts included taking money from public transit and postponing cost-of-living increases for the aged, blind and disabled.

While we’ve been making these cuts that we hate, we’ve kept in things the Republicans care about. We kept the money to pay the property tax for farmers to preserve rural agricultural land. We kept an exemption to the yacht tax.

We’ve given all we can. Now Republicans are asking for policy changes that have nothing to do with the budget, such as weakening the California Environmental Quality Act. A reasonable discussion about non-budgetary issues can be had after the budget is passed.

Throughout this budget process Democrats have recognized that we had to make tough and uncomfortable choices. We know that our prison costs may skyrocket under judges’ orders. We know the economic future is uncertain. At the same time, we worked hard to invest in programs that will save the state money in the long run. By funding transitional housing for foster youth, for example, the state keeps kids on the right path and prevents them from becoming homeless or, worse yet, getting into trouble and adding to the prison population.

This budget doesn’t make my highlight reel. I’m not proud of it. But it’s the best we can do in difficult financial times when the state Constitution requires the budget to be passed by a two-thirds majority.

It’s clear this situation can’t continue. That’s why I’ve said from the beginning of this process that once we have a budget we need to get down to work and look at how our state spends and captures revenue. Serious changes must be made or the state will be in a perpetual crisis.

Because the Senate Republicans have insisted that at least eight of their members vote for a budget before any of them do, we have a very small group within the Senate’s minority party holding up the budget and vital payments to schools, nursing homes and transportation projects.

Senate Republicans are not negotiating–they are making demands. Well, we’ve done all we can do to satisfy them. It’s time for them to accept the current budget–a proposal many Republicans already believe is victory by their standards–and get back to the important work of the state of California.
To continue blocking the budget for non-fiscal reasons not only hurts Californians but is fiscally irresponsible. I hope Republicans will consider their position.

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