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Here’s a frightening thought to start the day: In just 15
weeks, we get to start the state budget process all over.

If that’s not enough to spoil a Monday morning, try this: None
of the underlying problems with the state’s budget are solved with the
get-out-town deal cut over the weekend by state legislators.

There’s probably an apt metaphor in the big GOP golf
fund-raiser this week. They’re playing in Nevada. California
might be better off if the Republicans invited their Democratic colleagues to
the Silver State – and they all stayed.

No one comes out of this deal looking good.

Republicans showed political discipline not often seen in Sacramento. By sticking
together, they accomplished their goal of no new taxes. Sort of. A big piece of
the plan is to speed up the collection of state income taxes by boosting
payroll deductions. You know, pay next year’s taxes today. There’s a promise to refund the extra money next year. Of course,
tax time in the spring is also budget time. So there’s likely to be pressure to delay
those refunds.

While they showed unusual discipline, it shouldn’t be overlooked that the Republicans were unable
to produce a budget proposal that balanced the books honestly. They couldn’t
stomach the necessary cuts, so they proposed a plan that delays the day of
reckoning once more by borrowing yet again.

Democrats didn’t do much better. They were up front about
opposing the spending cuts it would take to balance budget without taxes, but they spent much of the spring and summer complaining
about obstinate Republicans and the two-thirds majority needed to pass a
budget. The two-thirds rule is indeed outdated. But the Democrats’ budget plan included
a tax hike, which under the state constitution also requires a two-thirds vote. So
even if they could pass the budget with a simple majority or 55 percent, they
couldn’t have funded it without Republican votes. And their strategy for
winning those votes came down to, let the governor do it.

But introductions were going to be needed first. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, we learned, hadn’t even met some
of his fellow Republicans. leaving him with no ability to get their votes for his plan, which like the Democrats’ plan, mixed spending cuts with tax hikes and borrowing. In
1992, Gov. Pete Wilson was asked if he would twist arms to get budget votes. Wilson said something to
the effect of, “Twist ’em? I’ll break ’em.” That wasn’t an option for the
strongman governor who proved to be the political equivalent of a 98-pound weakling.

So we’re left with a budget that “borrows” billions from the
paychecks of taxpayers and anticipated lottery revenue (“a gift from the future,” as
Schwarzenegger described it this summer).

The payroll deductions are supposed to be a short-term
loan, unlike the 30-year refinancing plan that was sold to voters in 2004 as a
long-term solution to California’s
fiscal woes. We’ll see.

It is clear that this governor and these lawmakers aren’t up
to a long-term fix, making an independent, bipartisan effort all the more
critical. A good place to start is California Forward, which already is working
on many of these issues.

— Jim Sweeney