Budget deal reached by California’s lawmakers

Mark Laluan

An eleventh hour effort by Republican and Democratic leaders to patch together a budget deal succeeded last Friday.

Tense negotiations surrounded the budget proposal adopted by California’s political leaders. Now the fight turns to the respective Republican and Democratic State Assembly and Senate caucuses.

These bodies must now be convinced of the merits of what their respective leadership has agreed upon in the budget draft proposal. As of Friday, the proposal is due to be voted upon by lawmakers this Thursday.

It has taken over three months for state lawmakers to create a budget that would solve California’s $19 billion budget deficit. Each side must now sell their solution not only to their fellow legislators who will vote on the budget but also to the California electorate.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from the beginning has acted with the intentions of solidifying his legacy through the insertion or deletion of proposals within the budget. The Governor’s proposals that made their way into the final agreement included reform of state pension plans, a halt on tax increases and salary reductions for state workers.

The Governor’s hand in the budget debate was strengthened by the California Supreme Court’s upholding of the legality of state worker furloughs nor will state workers be given the opportunity to collect back pay from any furlough period.

While the California Supreme Court in its ruling this Monday in “Professional Engineers in Cal. Government v. Schwarzenegger” stated that the power to approve furloughs originates with the legislature and not with the executive.

The courts have given legal basis for a cost-saving solution that will affect the livelihoods of thousands of state workers every time it is employed to ease the state out of current and future budget crunches.

Over 200,000 state workers were affected by furloughs starting last year. This action resulted in 46 furlough days being declared, which saved the state $3 billion in payroll costs over the past two years.

The Governor has always maintained that furloughs are a “necessary evil” required to balance the state budget and hold the state accountable for its spending habits.

In a statement released regarding the California Supreme Court’s ruling, the Governor said, “[This ruling] upholds the state’s actions to protect taxpayers and ensure we live within our means, just like every California family and business must do.”

On the other hand, Democrats contented themselves in stopping what was to be initially a $12 billion cut in state provided welfare services and bargained down reductions in the social safety net to the tune of $7.5 billion.

Republicans, who have had vocal disagreements with the Republican Governor over the degree to which budget cuts should be applied, have taken home over $200 million in tax breaks for industries impacted by the economic recession.

Both the Governor and Republican leadership joined in a successful effort to block an almost perennial Democratic attempt to create an oil severance tax in California.

Republicans have held fast to their no-tax pledge but with voters seemingly set on passing Prop 25, a proposal which would eliminate the two-thirds majority required to pass financial bills, the Grand Old Party wishes to avoid giving voters a reason such as a budget deadlock to pass Prop 25.

When asked about what the budget proposal entails for the direction of California, Cal State East Bay political science professor, Dr. David Baggins said, “At this moment everything looks bad for Republicans. The Democrats seem likely to change the voting rules by proposition and to take the governor’s office. So Republicans have every reason to compromise now.”

A recent Field Poll published this September show that support has steadily declined for Prop 25 and that it had dropped below the 50 percent support mark in the week of the September 14 to September 21.

Beyond the partisan ramifications of the impending passage of California’s budget are the effects of the $7.5 billion in service cuts agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans.

Previously on the chopping block under the original Republican proposal would be the elimination of services such as subsidized child care for over 142,000 children and the axing of California’s welfare-to-work program.

With state revenues shrinking and demands for services increasing as a result of the on-going economic downturn, the state may be forced to make more drastic and deeper cuts to the social safety net in the coming months.

“I do expect that there will be further cuts in social services and welfare, a long term trend. I also expect that there will be continuing discussion of the preferred working conditions of public employees,” said Baggins.