SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Perhaps one of the most dangerous sentences in the English language is: "It can't get any worse."
Anyone who doesn't know that should not be trusted with sharp objects or political power. And yet there are California Republican Party convention-goers who made that claim in a city where everyone else asks what's wrong with the Republicans.
On the one hand, hard-liners want to punish any GOP lawmaker who cuts a deal to put Gov. Jerry Brown's five-year car-fee, income and sales tax extension on the ballot. On the other hand, few Republican lawmakers voted for spending cuts -- leaving Democrats to carry that heavy burden. Thus GOP leaders come across as inflexible and worthless.
Only five Assembly Repubs voted for a measure to pare state welfare checks and save the state $156 million. Only one Republican Assembly member, Chris Norby of Fullerton, voted to end redevelopment so that $1.7 billion can go to essential services like schools and public safety.
What are they thinking? That's what Democrats, independents and those Republicans who wouldn't be caught dead at a GOP confab ask me.
GOP faithful and legislative staffers tell me that voters already rejected a ballot measure to extend the 2009 tax increases by a 2-1 margin -- there's no need for a do-over. GOP lawmakers see no percentage in risking their jobs by voting for spending cuts when there is no real budget -- because the Dems won't put forth a budget that only cuts. Besides, they shrug, things can't get worse.
They also argue that there are other ways to cut spending -- as in pressuring labor to cut compensation in order to keep schools open. And some of the Legislature's cuts are more gimmick than reality. Take the proposal to save $563 million by putting some felons in jail rather than prison. Problem: Most county jails don't have room for more bodies.
That said, most Republicans with whom I talk want a deal. They understand that if voters don't get the opportunity to vote on the Brown budget proposal, voters will blame Republicans for every teacher layoff, every canceled school day and every felon released to the streets.
These Republicans appreciate that there will be bad press during the negotiators' dance. That's OK, if the GOP 5 -- state Sens. Tom Berryhill of Modesto, Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, Anthony Canella of Ceres, Bill Emmerson of Hemet and Tom Harman of Huntington Beach -- can squeeze out smart concessions, such as pension reform and a spending cap. They should get something for a vote that will get their "heads on a stick" at a certain talk-radio venue.
Sacto taskmeister Eric Hogue is not a heads-on-a-stick conservative: "Some people believe that control is more important than success." The purists, with their vendettas, are chasing pragmatists from the party.
Radio-show host and self-described cowboy libertarian Patrick Dorinson is no longer a registered Republican. He notes with disgust, "Only a buzzard feeds on its friends."
Me? I'm getting to the point where I don't even care if the GOP 5 can squeeze out concessions from the Democratic leadership. They should cut a deal anyway.
Because if Brown and the Democratic leadership fail to deliver needed reforms, the ballot measure and its tax increase will tank. If the measure fails, it will be on the Democrats -- because they will have failed to convince voters that they can be trusted to spend tax dollars wisely.
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