Once again California starts a new fiscal year today without a state budget. But it didn’t have to be this way. Assembly Republicans have been reminding lawmakers for the past 100 days, since March 23, that the end of the fiscal year was fast approaching. We urged majority Democrats to begin working with us early, so we could have a bipartisan solution in place before the end of the fiscal year. They said no.
Unfortunately, there are signs that this year’s stalemate may be worse than most. Typically the Democrat-dominated conference committee patches together a plan that allows their leaders to symbolically unite. They then criticize Republicans for not supporting their partisan budget, and blame the two-thirds vote requirement for Sacramento’s dysfunction.
This year the Democrats are taking a different approach. The budget conference committee is at a stand still without any of the contentious issues yet resolved.
Instead, Assembly and Senate Democrat leaders are rigidly touting vastly different plans to tax, borrow and spend their way out of a $19.1 billion budget hole. Senate Democrats want to raise $5 billion in new taxes on kids, cars, alcohol and oil, and to shift responsibility and broader taxing authority to locals. Assembly Democrats remain committed to a complex and discredited borrowing scheme that would take out a 20 year mortgage from the bottle and can recycling fund to pay for this year’s overspending.
While it’s possible that all of this posturing is just for show to appease their core liberal constituencies, it’s also possible that there is something more dubious going on. There have been rumblings for over a month that Democrats are pursuing a strategy to shut down state government if Republicans won’t agree to tax increases. The latest budget developments give credence to this theory.
In a rather ominous sign, Assembly Democrats leaked to the media a memo from the Speaker in which he says that “it is critical that the Democrats hold firm and not engage in any negotiation until the governor shows signs of reciprocation.” The Speaker fumes that he wants the Governor and Republicans to withdraw plans to reduce state spending and cut programs California can’t afford. Yet, he appears unwilling to even work with his Democrat counterparts in the Senate to produce a viable plan, let alone come to the table and negotiate alternative spending reductions with Republicans.
With the new fiscal year upon us, it seems Democrat leaders are determined to drag out the process and inflict budget pain on Californians if Republicans will not feed their appetite for tax increases. Yet the people and the experts have already spoken on their competing schemes.
The tax and spend approach the Senate Democrats favor is the same one that voters rejected last May. The borrowing scheme the Assembly Democrats are staking their claim to was deemed unconstitutional by the Attorney General and rejected by the Treasurer.
Of the three budget plans on the table, only the Governor has provided a realistic roadmap to a responsible budget. Legislative Republicans remain united behind the Governor’s budget blueprint. Rather than writing a fourth or fifth plan, negotiations need to start immediately on the May Revise. It is the only plan introduced to date that sets priorities, reduces spending, and maintains last year’s education funding levels, without raising taxes.
It’s time for legislative Democrats to stop stalling and thwarting negotiations. It is irresponsible to take budget hostages in order to try to turn up the pressure for tax increases. Republicans have been eager to get to work on a responsible, no-tax budget for the last 100 days. How many more days will we have to wait until legislative Democrats are ready to come to the table and get serious? The real consequences for inaction mount every day from here forward.