So it’s been almost a month since the 2010-11 state budget was to have been enacted, and yet so far there’s been hardly any movement or action at all on the budget. With Prop 25, restoring majority rule to the budget process, Republicans would be out of the picture and Democrats could negotiate directly with the governor. With a Democratic governor, majority vote budgets that involve the use of fees could be approved and signed without a single Republican vote being needed – that is, if Prop 26 fails.
The common thread here is that Republicans, in the governor’s office and in the state legislature, are all actively prolonging the state budget mess. Why? Because it’s in their interest to do so.
Prior to 2008, the longest budget standoff in California history was in 2002. Republican legislators prolonged the standoff into September in order to undermine Governor Gray Davis’s re-election campaign. In 2006, however, when Arnold Schwarzenegger sought re-election, Republicans quickly agreed with Democrats and passed one of the only on-time budgets in recent history.
Obviously, Republicans feel they can score political points by making the state government look ineffective, perhaps boosting Meg Whitman’s chances. She’s already positioning herself as an outsider and Jerry Brown as an insider, so a long budget standoff could play to her advantage.
There are also the usual shock doctrine goals of the Republicans at work here, as Shane Goldmacher reports:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has demanded overhauls of the public pension system, the state tax code and the budgeting process, on top of the annual budget-balancing struggle. He has said he won’t sign a spending plan that lacks those things, and California could languish without one until he leaves office – in 2011….
Schwarzenegger proposed deep cuts this year, including the elimination of welfare, to close the deficit. Democrats have countered with some tax increases, mainly on oil companies, and the rollback of some corporate tax breaks.
This is all quite similar to the 1995 budget standoff in Congress, where Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich shut down the government in order to force President Clinton to cave. Clinton didn’t mind being thrown in that briar patch, knowing that the public really does want their public services and wants them to continue, and Gingrich folded.
Democrats are indicating they’ve learned the right lessons from Clinton and are refusing to give into Arnold’s demands, with Sen. Darrell Steinberg calling Arnold’s bluff.
So now Arnold is pushing further, reinstating furloughs that had just expired:
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will impose unpaid furloughs through executive order on most state workers again beginning in August, according to a union official who was briefed on the plan by the administration.
As usual, this isn’t necessarily designed to force a budget solution. It’s designed to force Democrats and labor unions to cave to Arnold’s shock doctrine demands.
This is why passing Prop 25 is so important. It won’t solve the entire state budget mess. But it will bring an end to these shock doctrine-style demands, especially if Meg Whitman is elected governor this fall.