Governor Schwarzenegger Skips Republican Convention to Deal with Budget

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The Republican National Convention's lineup is missing one of the party's biggest stars: Governor Schwarzenegger. He was to deliver opening remarks in St. Paul, but he's staying home until state lawmakers pass a budget. That's harder to do this year because of a multibillion dollar budget gap, so the state's spending plan is a record 65 days late. KPCC's Julie Small reports the impasse reflects, in part, Schwarzenegger's inability to sway his Republican colleagues.

Julie Small: Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on how to close the state's $15 billion deficit. Governor Schwarzenegger's press secretary Aaron McLear says the state's chief executive has offered plenty of solutions.

Aaron McLear: He's frustrated. I mean, he's trying everything he can to get legislators to focus on getting their job done. But they seem intent to just stick it out and do this stalemate. Meanwhile, Californians suffer.

Small: To save money, Schwarzenegger dismissed 10,000 state workers and ordered pay cuts for 200,000 others. He threatened to veto any bill the legislature sends him until it passes a budget. And when that failed to motivate lawmakers, the governor proposed a compromise budget that included a temporary sales tax increase.

But when Senate Democrats adopted most of that plan and put it up for a vote last week, Schwarzenegger wasn't able to convince a single Republican to support it. That infuriated the Senate's leader, Oakland Democrat Don Perata.

Senator Don Perata: We have had it with reaching an agreement with the administration, only to be told to give us more. We have had it with the administration telling us that you, Republican senators, demand more concessions to provide the votes.

Small: California's constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget. So Republicans have to agree to any plan. But they've repeatedly said they won't agree to one that raises taxes.

Dave Cogdill: I think that's irresponsible, and quite frankly, I think it's immoral.

Small: California's Senate minority leader, Dave Cogdill, said a sales tax passes the buck to Californian consumers already saddled with foreclosures, high unemployment, and rising fuel and food prices.

Cogdill: We're going back to this population that is so impacted right now to say you have to solve the spending problems, and you have to address the lack of discipline that the state of California has exhibited now for decades.

Small: During the weekend, Republicans proposed a budget plan that would close the deficit with borrowed money from state funds for counties and transportation. It would also cut more services. Republicans hope to put their plan up for a vote by the end of the week, but the governor and Democrats have already condemned it.

Tracy Westen: It's almost as bad as waiting for the gangrene to get so bad you have to cut off the limb.

Small: Tracy Westen with the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles expects the budget battle to drag on.

Westen: In the absence of leadership, and that's apparently what we have, an absence of real leadership here, the situation will continue to fester, like an infection, and will get worse, and worse, and worse, until finally somebody has to give.

Small: Westen said the configuration of California's election districts ensure that incumbents hold onto their seats no matter how badly they behave. With little incentive to compromise, Westen expects Republicans to hold out for quite some time.

Westen: Now if the governor was saying "If you don't approve the budget a compromise budget, I will actually go out and campaign against you," that might get their attention.

Small: Westen predicted that California's going to pay dearly for such a late budget. By early next month, the state controller will be forced to borrow to pay billions of dollars of state bills. Borrowing without a budget in place will cost California millions of extra dollars – and ultimately, it could hurt the state's credit rating.