With Juan Arambula apparently leaving the Democratic Party, a day before both chambers were scheduled to vote on the Democratic alternative budget, it’s striking how little difference this will make. Because the legislature will not vote to enact a budget but to revise it, on everything but tax increases they need only a majority vote. And the way that the Democrats structured their version, less than 10% of the bill include solutions requiring a 2/3 vote. And Assembly Democrats still hold a 49-29-1 advantage even if Arambula becomes an independent. What’s more, the leadership structured a fallback option should those oil and tobacco taxes go down, along with a couple repeals of corporate tax breaks passed in February. Presumably they would simply shrink the budget reserve and pass the same budget, and that could also be done on a majority-vote basis – actually they could pass the oil and cigarette taxes through a majority-vote fee swap, if they really wanted to, although I reluctantly agree with this article that Democrats are probably posturing, knowing they don’t have the votes and hoping to at least fork some Republicans on “voting with Big Tobacco and Big Oil. It’s simply good politics to do so, but that’s a small consolation to those who may see their services cut as a result.
There is a cost to passing these revisions by majority vote, however, because anything done in this fashion will take effect 90 days out, while a 2/3 vote for any revision would take effect immediately. Obviously, with a 90-day lag the savings will not be as robust on the cuts, requiring yet another go-round of this at the end of the year, which was probably inevitable anyway given the lack of revenue filling state coffers. And of course, that will be on the heads of those Republicans who don’t vote for these solutions, those “fiscally responsible” types who will cost the state money by failing to fast-track these revisions. Let’s hope, beyond hope, that actually reaches the headlines.
The point to all this is that the Democrats’ budget will provide a significant amount of pain, which is why they don’t have to put up too much of a fight to get it passed. The side-by-side comparison of the two budgets shows pretty clearly that Democrats accepted a substantial amount of the cuts, and also some of the gimmicks that the Governor had in his plan. They added a couple tax increases but not the broad restructuring of government necessary to protect the most vulnerable. They repealed a couple corporate tax breaks for CEOs but not as many as they could have. If you’re going to engage in what George Skelton calls Kabuki theater, since you’re delivered a fallback plan, don’t compromise the Kabuki and instead create the real vision for the state that you desire, something that the grassroots, just getting their feet wet in this fight, can rally behind. Or maybe, the Democratic caucus DID, a somewhat terrifying thought.