Now isn’t this fun? The California Legislature’s Democrats push a chewing-gum-and-baling-wire budget through in near-record time, claiming that it’s balanced and meets the rarely observed June 15 constitutional deadline for action.
One day later, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown rejects it as unbalanced and unworkable — after hinting three days before that he might sign such a budget.
“It continues big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars in new debt,” Brown said in Thursday’s veto message, parroting what Republicans had said.
“It also contains legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings. It is not financeable and therefore would not allow us to meet our obligations as they occur,” he added.
An hour later, the Legislature’s two Democratic leaders replied in kind, defending their handiwork and criticizing Brown for clinging to a cut-and-tax budget plan that he hasn’t been able to enact after nearly six months of trying.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez repeatedly used the word “dismayed,” and Steinberg mused that Brown is pursuing “some elaborate strategy to force a confrontation.”
As the two were pushing the budget package, they repeatedly suggested that since Brown would have 12 days to sign or veto it, he’d have time to restart negotiations with Republicans on his version. It appeared they were miffed he acted so quickly rather than using their budget as leverage.
That presumes, of course, that the Democratic budget somehow put pressure on Republicans. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect of increasing their leverage on Brown to make concessions to get his centerpiece, an extension of expiring sales, income and car taxes, on the ballot.
A complicating factor is that Steinberg, Perez and public employee unions really don’t want the fall election that Brown seeks on taxes, fearing — with good reason — that voters would reject them.
Still another is the new state law that strips legislators of salaries and expense checks, about $400 per day each, if a budget is not passed by June 15.
Controller John Chiang has appointed himself the law’s enforcer. Legislative leaders contend that Wednesday’s budget action complies, but Brown’s declaration that the budget was unbalanced gives Chiang grounds to stop the paychecks.
Chiang was waffling Thursday, saying he wants “to complete our analysis” before deciding whether to pay lawmakers at month’s end.
If Chiang pays legislators, the rejected budget will look like a giant charade by Democrats to evade the law. And the fun will continue.
Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.