The voters have spoken and the Legislature listened. Sort of.
Just as the Democrat-controlled Legislature approved the state budget Wednesday in party-line votes, Gov. Jerry Brown found himself in a pickle: Will he sign it or not?
Normally, that question would carry little suspense – he’d sign it and sharpen his veto pen. He’s got 12 days to sign the document, accompanied by any vetoes, or let the budget bill become law without his signature – an option unheard of in the Capitol.
But this is no normal budget. Brown has said he wants to put his budget plans – including taxes – before voters for validation.
Wednesday’s budget doesn’t include extending existing taxes.
But the governor also said he wants a clear, straightforward budget. The spending plan sent to his desk to close a $9.6 billion shortfall is sharply in contrast: It contains borrowings, delayed payments, fees and other gimmicks – all standard fare for California budgets – that contradict his publicly stated desire for a transparent and straightforward spending plan.
Voters earlier approved allowing non-tax budgets to pass by simple-majority votes – if they don’t contain higher taxes – and that if the constitutional deadline of June 15 passes without a budget, lawmakers would be docked pay for each day the budget is late. Both those conditions were met.
The no-tax budget makes an end-run around the deficit, in part by selling off some $1.2 billion in state property, postponing $3 billion in payments to schools and by capturing at least $1 billion from voter-approved children’s programs.
The governor had sought tax extensions to balance the budget, but Republicans in both houses refused. In the end, the budget was approved on partisan votes.
Not surprisingly, Democrats lauded the action and Republicans were dismissive.
“The governor’s budget was a balanced approach that called for drastic cuts and the extension of existing taxes. Democrats have done the difficult job of making painful cuts to programs we hold dear, such as state parks, higher education, and support for the poor, the elderly and the disabled,” said Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills.
Republicans said the spending plan failed to include changes in public pensions and spending that they had demanded.
“This is the Democrats’ third simple majority-vote budget in just three months without any Republican reforms,” said Senate GOP Leader Bob Dutton.
“It clearly demonstrates that legislative Democrats would rather pander to their special interest allies than adopt the long-term budget solutions that Californians demand and deserve. It also proves that a bridge tax is unnecessary,” he added.