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Thursday, July 8, 2004
Los Angeles Times 7-8-04
No One Owns Up to Budget Morass
SACRAMENTO — The blame game intensified Wednesday as lawmakers failed again to reach agreement on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $103-billion state budget.
With an eye toward the November elections, Democratic and Republican legislators have begun maneuvering to avoid appearing as obstructionists. The charge is creeping into the debate more and more as the state begins its second week of the fiscal year without a spending plan. Lawmakers and political strategists are busy trying to stick the tag on the opposition.
"If one group sees an advantage as it relates to the November election, they will try to play that card," said Republican political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. Three-fourths of the legislative seats will be up for election.
One effort may come today. Democratic legislative leaders were planning to force committee action on a version of the budget that they endorse. The purpose is to suggest that they are ready to complete the budget, while Republicans are resisting.
Progress toward a deal was scant Wednesday. Big-city mayors, the governor and legislative leaders resumed talks over one of the major sticking points: local government funding.
Cities and counties want assurance that if they agree to $2.6 billion in cuts over the next two years, the state won't tap local funds again unless there is a financial emergency. Cities want to enact a high threshold for seizing local revenue: a four-fifths vote of the Legislature. Democratic lawmakers prefer a two-thirds vote.
"It's not even in the ballpark," Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said of the four-fifths demand. "They seem to have no sense of reality."
Said Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, "The cities are adamant that we want the kind of protection that makes it so remote that it becomes almost an impossibility that the state would decide to raid local government."
Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) says that if the local government deal and the rest of the budget are not resolved soon, charges of obstruction will begin to fly in earnest.
"Once we get over this current obstacle, if we are still stuck [on other issues], that will present a major problem," Nuñez said. "I think the term 'obstructionist' is going to come into play. Who is responsible for obstructing things will be the $64,000 question."
The mere suggestion that they are holding things up puts lawmakers on the defensive.
"Republicans have done nothing to hold this budget up," said Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. "It's been the Democrats. They are the majority party here. They run this place. If we were in charge, we would have the budget done."
The Bakersfield Republican denied that he has plotted to place blame on the other side of the aisle.
Some Democrats, however, say McCarthy is doing little else.
Democratic political consultant Gale Kaufman calls the Republican alliance with local governments purely political. It included the Republicans demanding a floor vote on a deal that the governor initially negotiated with cities and counties to protect their funding from being cut after next year.
"This was not for them about good government," she said. "The Republicans are rarely on the same side of local governments. It was a grandstand…. They were trying to force a vote so they could use it out of context in November. We understand it because we have done the same thing."
Like his Republican counterpart, Nuñez tries to leave the impression that he is above the fray.
He said it was the Republicans who need to "stop thinking so much about the political implications for them in November if they don't get this or they don't get that." In the Assembly, some Democrats say Nuñez has been too cautious, declining to respond as Schwarzenegger has hammered them in public appearances, comparing them to children.
"They don't know what Schwarzenegger's impact is going to be come the fall election," Hoffenblum said.
Yet, now that the governor has failed to make good on his promise to
deliver a budget by July 1, Democrats are beginning to more openly criticize
him. Nuñez recently suggested that the governor has added to the
delay by "flip flopping" his positions when it has suited him
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