Remember the state budget? The one that the California Constitution says should have been done by June 15 for a fiscal year that began July 1?
Nearly a month later, not only does the state not have a budget in place, but there are no indications it will emerge soon.
“It will be another few weeks to get a budget done,” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a group of Los Angeles business leaders Monday, which proves again that Schwarzenegger is an incurable optimist.
“Another few months” might be closer to the mark.
The budget has a deficit of around $20 billion, growing daily, and closing it would be a weighty chore even were the capital a functional institution. The capital, however, is a structurally dysfunctional institution and its chronic malaise is compounded by the political conditions of the moment.
Schwarzenegger is an unpopular lame-duck governor who said he won’t sign a budget without budgetary and pension reforms that Democrats despise. Democrats, sensitive to public employee unions, are insisting on new taxes that he and Republican legislators reject out of hand. And, of course, it’s an election year.
Within a few weeks, the state will run out of cash to pay its bills and could resort to IOUs. Schwarzenegger contends that state employees should receive only minimum wage without a new budget in place.
As the stalemate’s fallout widens, the state’s media will focus on it more intensely. Even notoriously detached Southern California TV stations will set aside crime and celebrity scandal to tell viewers what’s not happening.
And then there’s Proposition 25, a November ballot measure that would change the legislative vote requirement for budgets from two-thirds to a simple majority. Democrats and their union allies are pushing the measure while Republicans, who would lose their leverage on the budget, and business groups are opposed.
Schwarzenegger weighed in Monday, saying, “I even don’t believe in doing the budget by a simple majority, because if you do a budget by simple majority, again, there is one party that will make all the decisions.”
Both sides of the Prop. 25 battle may have a vested interest in having this year’s budget stalemate continue indefinitely, thus driving legislators’ abysmal popularity even lower.
The Prop. 25 campaign could urge voters to punish legislators by emphasizing the measure’s provision that would strip them of their pay and living expenses when the budget is late. Meanwhile, the anti-Prop. 25 campaign could contend that it’s a power grab by the same politicians who are not doing their jobs now.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.