By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
America‘s worst-ever state budget crisis comes with its own circus. Gray Davis had no sooner unveiled his proposed budget last week in the Capitol’s press-conference room than critics gathered in the hallways outside in what amounted to a rugby scrum with straining reporters. The Assembly Republicans‘ budget point person, Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine), praised the governor’s program cuts but ripped into Davis‘ proposal for increased taxes on the wealthy, a 1-cent sales-tax hike and an additional $1.10-a-pack cigarette tax. “This will not stand, the governor is hyping the deficit to raise taxes,” he declared as a group of reporters, who had just rushed out from Davis’ presentation even as outgoing state Finance Director Tim Gage began to spell out the details, jostled around him, straining to ask questions.
After Campbell took a host of questions, growing more adamant as he repeated his simple message, the Weekly asked, “John, you‘re saying that in essence Davis has solved the budget deficit.” Campbell answered, “Yes. He has provided the road map to solving the crisis.”
“So,” asked the Weekly, “if Davis’ cuts solve most if not all of the crisis, why would he want to raise taxes?”
“Because he is catering to ideological liberals in the Legislature who want to raise taxes,” explained Campbell.
“So, John, if the Davis plan was enacted we would have a big budget surplus?”
“Yes, absolutely,” replied Campbell. It seemed an exciting thought. Then he reconsidered. “Well, many of the taxes would end up not being paid because people would figure out ways around them.”
This sort of confused thinking is one of the reasons the state Legislature is having such a hard time addressing the budget problem. Because California is one of the few states that requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature to pass a budget, and because Democrats are just shy of two-thirds of the seats in the Legislature, Campbell‘s views matter.
Just down the hallway, Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte (R--Rancho Cucamonga) also held forth. “Raising taxes in this environment is like what led to the events of 200 years ago,” he opined, referring to the “taxation without representation” that helped spark the American Revolution. An imperfect analogy, to be sure, in that California is not a colony and just held elections in which most of Brulte’s confederates lost.
Meanwhile, back in the conference room, Davis administration officials were working their way through explanations of the budget plan, a document that could easily be used in arm-curling exercises. “Tim,” asked one reporter plaintively, “is this going to be viewed as good or bad by education advocates?”
Needless to say, folks in California‘s Capitol are still scrambling to get their hands around the scope of the state’s budget debacle, which Davis, in the widely accepted figures, puts at just under $35 billion for an 18-month period. When you put Davis‘ just-introduced budget for the next fiscal year together with his $10 billion proposal to deal with the shortfall in this fiscal year -- which the Legislature is just beginning hearings on this week -- you have a recipe for confusion. The circuslike atmosphere of last Friday will undoubtedly repeat itself.
While Republican legislative leaders shrilly proclaim their opposition to tax hikes, and community groups proclaim impending disaster with massive cuts to social programs and education, some business leaders keep their own counsel about “revenue enhancements,” as they are known in the parlance. Even if a few Republicans choose pragmatism and go along with the Democrats, there will almost certainly be major changes to Davis’ budget. Says Senate Budget Committee Chairman Wes Chesbro, a North Coast Democrat, “The governor is not getting anywhere near a pristine version of his budget.” But even on the Democratic side, powerful players are keeping things close to the vest. Senate President John Burton is still appointing members of Chesbro‘s budget committee. Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson has a study group working but no plan of his own thus far. He says he’s looking forward to the hearings starting this week, which will focus on the $10 billion shortfall in the current fiscal year, not the full budget for the next fiscal year, which Davis introduced last week.
Into this breach, as reported last week, barges the Latino Legislative Caucus, whose members now make up more than a fifth of the Legislature. In a nice sequence of political theater, the governor appeared Monday night at the annual Latino leadership reception, held across the street from the Capitol in the atrium of the old Senator Hotel, once a swankily sleazy den of influence peddling and iniquity. As he closed a mostly well-received speech to the crowd, Davis cited the need, even in the midst of “tough choices,” to hang on to “the basic elements of opportunity” that make “California a special place, where anything is possible. Anything. I got elected governor.” The crowd laughed.
But Davis probably did not intend the crowd to laugh when, in noting that many don‘t like his budget, he declared, “If you don’t like it, come up with your own.” As it turns out, the Latino Legislative Caucus will be meeting this weekend to draw up its own alternative budget.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city