Sacramento Republicans have accomplished the impossible. Assembly Republicans pushed for and won a $145 billion budget that would pare the state deficit to $700 million. Then, holdout Senate Republicans got Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to agree to use his line-item veto to cut the deficit to zero.
Now there is only one question left: Can Senate Republicans take yes for an answer?
On July 20, the Assembly passed the budget with enough Republican votes to muster the necessary two-thirds of that house. In the Senate vote that followed, Democrats supported the bill, but the GOP caucus rejected it.
Only one Republican, state Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria, voted for the budget -- and he did so by sidestepping the caucus' Rule of Eight. (The Rule of Eight means that no Republican can vote for the budget unless eight of the Senate's 15 Republicans decide that any one GOPer can vote yes.)
What's holding the Repubs back?
Before I get to that, let me congratulate the Assembly for passing a budget without a shortfall. Apparently, this budget deal would eliminate the deficit in part by delaying some expenditures -- the specifics of the deal are not public -- but Senate GOP Leader Dick Ackerman assured me that most of the $700 million represents "solid cuts."
Or, as state GOP board member Jon Fleischman told me, "The Republicans are finally doing what you complained that they won't do." True, I have criticized GOP lawmakers for voting for budgets that increased spending, as long as they did not include tax increases, when they also ought to insist on balanced budgets. So this budget represents real improvement.
Alas, Ackerman and his caucus are holding out for passage of a companion measure to prevent any lawsuits filed by Attorney General Jerry Brown, who brought a lawsuit against San Bernardino County claiming that the county did not consider global-warming impacts when updating its general plan." GOP Sen. Dave Cox argued that the caucus wants to protect taxpayers, who are forced to fund not only Brown's suits, but also their local government's legal bills.
There's payback at play, too. Fleischman explained: "The governor pretty much doesn't give Republicans the time of day except when there's a two-thirds vote. You can't ignore us all year long and then expect us to roll over without substantive changes in the budget."
But I think Schwarzenegger was right to complain that with the budget over a month overdue, "I do not support holding up a state budget because of non-budget issues."
Steve Maviglio, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, accused Ackerman of "moving the goal post." Some insiders say that Ackerman had reached a deal on the Brown lawsuits, but could not sell it to his caucus -- but Ackerman says no.
Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines told the Sacramento Bee, "I just hope that we don't see it come backward, that's my fear."
If another Senate Republican does not vote for the Assembly budget by Aug. 20, raising the total yes votes to 27, the whole deal could fall apart. Lynda Gledhill of Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's office, noted, "There's no doubt that the longer it goes on, the harder it is for Democrat members to vote for the budget, but we are committed to voting for this budget in its current form."
It is a small miracle that Sacto Dems agreed to a budget with a $1.1 billion cut in public transit funds and delays of cost-of-living increases for poor seniors and the disabled. I'd love to see the Senate Rs win more cuts, but with so much to lose, it would be best for them to learn to take yes for an answer.