SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Pontificating in his Capitol office Tuesday morning, California Assembly Republican Leader Dave Cox succinctly assessed the budget situation. "Speaking for the Republican side of the aisle, we believe that the government spends more than it takes in. Our friends on the other side of the aisle believe that we have a revenue problem."
Spending did rise hugely under Gov. Gray Davis (as did tax relief). In 1999, Davis signed a $79 billion budget (and decreased the auto-license fees as part of a budget agreement made during Gov. Pete Wilson's last year). Two years later, he signed a $100 billion budget. State spending rose 37 percent in four years. The dot-com tax revenue dried up, but dot-com-level spending remained.
If voters should learn anything from the state's record $38 billion budget shortfall, Cox believes, it should be, "One party rule doesn't work."
Alas, the GOP has failed to come across as the party with a serious solution. Tuesday afternoon, Senate Republicans voted on their own budget proposals. Senate GOP leader Jim Brulte patted the Rs on their collective back for not raising taxes. True, the GOP bill did target some egregious small-ticket boondoggles. But in the name of cutting spending, the GOP also tried to raise spending by restoring Democrat-proposed budget cuts in the over-protected Department of Corrections. The net "savings" added up to just $2.7 billion. Bottom line: It wasn't a serious effort. They didn't even pass their own bill. None of the Senate's 25 Democrats voted for the measure. Worse, two of the Senate's 15 Repubs failed to support it.
Even some Democrats concede the GOP may win its quest to get a budget passed without a tax hike -- that is, other than the $4 billion car-fee tax raised administratively by Team Davis in June. Legislators have seen polls that show that voters oppose essentially any tax -- unless it squeezes smokers or rich people.
But Gov. Gray Davis told me he anticipated a budget with "a new revenue source" to finance borrowing $10.7 billion to help balance the budget, the most bandied-about source being a temporary half-cent sales tax.
After the Senate vote, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton spoke to me in favor of higher taxes. I mentioned the polls on taxes.
"So what?" Burton boomed. "People would repeal the Bill of Rights if you put it on the ballot."
This is important because the buzz in the building says that only Brulte and Burton have the juice to cut a budget deal. Forget the Big Five budget negotiators: Say hello to the Big Two.
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