California's budget drama intensifies
Gov. Schwarzenegger stakes his political legacy on fiscal reform without tax hikes.
If the battle to close Californiaâ€™s whopping $26.3 billion budget gap were a play, the stateâ€™s politicians would only be starting the first act.
While the political theater in Sacramento is intensifying -- wheelchair-bound protesters rallying against cuts to social programs were arrested Tuesday and a top lawmaker has boycotted budget meetings -- analysts say that legislators are probably weeks away from coming to any agreement on how to close this stateâ€™s budget shortfall.
At the center of this drama is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is staking his political legacy on demanding a balanced budget that comes with fiscal reforms and without tax hikes.
â€śThis is the year that we finally have to put our fiscal house in order,â€ť Governor Schwarzenegger said Wednesday at a press conference to pitch his proposal for cuts to the stateâ€™s social welfare programs.
While Schwarzenegger says he wants to get rid of â€śwaste, fraud, and abuseâ€ť in the stateâ€™s welfare-to-work program -- which he says could save the state $753 million this fiscal year and $1.5 billion annually -- Democrats say heâ€™s mainly trying to force through reforms that heâ€™s been trying to make for years because the end of his term is in sight.
â€śHe is undoubtedly aware that he has 18 months left and that this is his second to last budget,â€ť says Timothy Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University. â€śThis year itâ€™s the governor who is very much encouraging the senate Republicans to hold fast.â€ť
Mr. Hodson points out that the annual budget process in California typically comes down to a â€śgame of chickenâ€ť between Republicans and Democrats. But this yearâ€™s fiscal fracas has been intensified by the national recession and compounded by the issuance of IOUs by the state of California. Some banks have said they will stop recognizing the IOUs come Friday. Whatâ€™s more, Fitch Ratings cut this stateâ€™s bond rating just two clicks above junk status.
Schwarzenegger is trying to nudge legislators to make some headway by taking his message to the people. In addition to his press conference on welfare reform Wednesday, he published a column in the Los Angeles Times last week calling on legislators to accept his proposals.
Heâ€™s even using Twitter. On July 1, he tweeted: â€śInstead of working on budget, the Legislature is about to debate whether cows can keep their tails while weâ€™re in a fiscal crisis.â€ť He was talking about a bill to prevent whatâ€™s known as â€śdocking,â€ť which is cutting off the tail of a horse.
State Democrats say that Schwarzenegger is being unrealistic. And some social service advocates have said he's acting like a bully.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass from Los Angles boycotted a recent budget meeting in protest of the governorâ€™s refusal to sign any spending bills unless they are accompanied by cuts to social programs.
"We believe that many of the governor's reforms are worthy of consideration, but what is most important right now is that we close the deficit, that we not continue to lose $25 million a day," Ms. Bass said, according to the Associated Press.
"The governor has gone to the voters before to make his claims and try to persuade the legislators through his efforts," he says. "What the voters really want now is a solution."
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