Garcia: Doing the budget dance again 

If anyone wondered how California got into such a severe fiscal mess, this week’s wrangling over the budget should provide an uncompromising glimpse.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed draconian cuts in welfare and family services as part of his recently announced budget, a move that was parried by Democrats who are pushing a host of new taxes and a “borrowing” plan that pushes the deficit farther on down the road.

Can you say impasse?

Assembly Democrats are proposing borrowing $9 billion from Wall Street, “securitizing” revenue that would be partially paid off with a new oil tax. That amount is in addition to nearly $5 billion in new taxes that Senate Democrats had already proposed as a way to stave off the steep service cuts in Schwarzenegger’s budget.

But all those spending plans have already been met with the expected resistance from Republicans in the Legislature who are opposed to any new taxes. And at least a few of them will be needed to approve any spending plan. And that would seem to signal that the annual budget dance is upon us — four weeks to go before one is supposed to be passed and no possible end in sight.

Let’s just say that the parties are staking out their positions along customary ideological fronts. The Democrats want to borrow billions from the nickel-and-dime deposits that consumers make on recyclable bottles and cans. Tax breaks for businesses that are scheduled to take effect soon would be delayed under their plan.

If you’re one of many voters not thirsty for extra taxes, you’ll definitely dislike the proposal to increase taxes on alcohol by 60 percent. Another proposed levy that will certainly be targeted by GOP leaders is a plan to raise vehicle license fees by $1.2 billion — just the same sort of car tax that has gotten several state governors removed from office.

Republican legislators ripped the proposed tax hikes.

“Asking people to dig deeper to support a chronically broken bureaucracy that is faced with a $19 billion budget deficit is just plain wrong,” Senate Budget Committee Vice Chairman Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said in a statement.

Adding to the chronically broken budget process is the fact that this is an election year and Schwarzenegger’s last chance to try to broker a settlement before he leaves office. That’s to say, don’t count on it — delays are the only certainty in this year’s budget cycle.

Neighborhood group miffed by top-cop snub

Being a city official at a community meeting in San Francisco is kind of like being a target on an archery range — you’ll get hit early and often.

But in a rare chance to have a nice neighborhood meet-and-greet for a change, police Chief George Gascón flubbed his golden moment when he canceled a long-planned get-together with the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association — for the second time.

Gascón agreed to meet with the organization in January, and its members had been busily planning for Thursday night’s gathering, with 20 volunteers passing out nearly 4,000 fliers. But it wasn’t until Monday night that association members got word that Gascón was attending a seminar in Monterey instead.

The steam you saw rising in the neighborhood was not coming from a local restaurant.

“This wasn’t intended to be a bitch session,” member Robert Barnwell said. “We wanted to make it nice and easy and talk about issues in the neighborhood. But crime has gone down in our neighborhood; we’re happy with the policing.”

Well, at least they were. One of the department’s commanders was supposed to be dispatched to replace Gascón, and that’s an understudy role that calls for a Kevlar vest.

San Francisco must play by rules too

San Francisco’s liberal cognoscente is caught in a quandary: Its members want to make a litmus test out of a new federal reporting program used to identify illegal immigrants, to the point of holding up commission appointees that haven’t signed onto the unofficial pledge.

But now, State Attorney General-governor hopeful Jerry Brown has told city officials that San Francisco must comply with the new reporting requirement, saying they can’t “opt out” of the system. So if the state’s nominal Democratic leader tells San Francisco that it can’t play by its own rules, what are the rule makers going to do?

It appears the answer is to stall for time, since supervisors decided to postpone a vote on a resolution opposing the new Secure Communities program after Brown made his ruling on the Sheriff’s Department request.

The program, scheduled to be rolled out in San Francisco next week, already is operating in 169 counties nationwide. Under it, the California Department of Justice automatically sends the digital fingerprints of suspects booked by local law enforcement officials to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

If ICE finds a match in its database, the suspects can be detained until their immigration status is determined. Brown ruled that San Francisco cannot unilaterally decide whether to enforce the program, which is to say that city leaders can’t ignore state and federal laws just because they don’t like them.

I know that sounds high-minded and definitely atypical. We’ll apprise you of any secession talk. 

New garden fee promises to detract visitors

We realize that desperate times call for deep and dirty measures, but there’s a lot to question about the decision by city officials to start charging out-of-town residents to view out-of-town plants.

And that’s essentially what San Francisco supervisors did when they voted to impose a $7 fee for nonresidents to tour the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park. With the exception of all but the most avid plant lovers, it’s hard to imagine how many people are going to pay to look at trees and shrubs, when the rest of the tree- and shrub-laden 1,000-acre park can be viewed for free.

Is there a botany convention coming in that we don’t know about?

Recreation and Park Department officials say the fees could raise up to $250,000 each year, to which we can only ask, have they been spending time down at the Police Department’s drug lab?

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