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A view of the California State Capitol in Sacramento. Legislative leaders return next week to hashing out agreements on the governor’s proposed $8 billion in cuts to health, welfare, scholarships and more.
Friday is the constitutional deadline for California’s legislature to pass a budget. Democrats say they’ll meet it, thanks to a ballot measure that allowed the partisan majority to pass a budget without Republican votes.
Before voters passed Proposition 25 in 2010, majority party leaders and their counterparts in the other party met with the governor to negotiate the budget. Sacramento insiders called those closed-door meetings “the Big 5.” But now those meetings may as well be “the Big 3,” because Democrats don’t invite Republican leaders to join.
So no matter what the Republicans think of the budget ...
“Sadly, it doesn’t really matter” says Bob Huff, the Republicans leader in the Senate. “This will be the second year we have a majority vote budget. So we have budget hearings going on--there’s no decisions being made. Just like last year the Democrats put that together with zero Republican input.”
State senator Dick Ackerman served as minority leader a few years before Huff — and before voters approved Prop 25. He says that back then majority Democrats still had the upper hand, but Republicans could leverage their budget votes to win some concessions.
“You didn’t have veto power, you couldn’t be unreasonable and demand wholesale changes—which I’d like to do!” Ackerman laughs, “But yeah, you did have leverage.”
Ackerman says he could argue for a simple majority vote budget - most other states work that way – but at a minimum he’d wants to see Republicans in the top-level talks.
“Because x-percent of the population are Republicans, and vote for Republicans and generally vote for Republican Governors. But those people are basically being disenfranchised form the budget discussion.” Says Ackerman.
Democrats still need Republican votes to increase taxes. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg says that’s a challenge.
“Because the Republicans sign these pledges—most of them anyways—that say ‘under no circumstances will we raise a tax or even amend an existing tax loophole’, they are bound by folks on the far right who will go after them in their next election if they violate that orthodoxy.” Says Steinberg
Last year, Democrats failed to persuade a handful of Republicans to extend a temporary tax increase until voters could weigh in. But the “GOP-5” as they were known, demanded pension reforms in exchange. Some capitol watchers say those Republicans overplayed their hand. Governor Brown cut off the talks and appealed directly to voters to put his tax initiative on the November ballot.