Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The State's Big Two-Thirds Problem

You sure wouldn't confuse the majority of California's elected GOP lawmakers with "Profiles in Courage." Rather than admit that desperate times call for desperate measures -- and these, indeed, are desperate times -- most of those state Legislature members would rather see California collapse and go insolvent, too afraid that they might be attacked by radio talk show hosts or by opponents in the next election.

Now, with the state Senate one vote shy of passing its compromise budget, things are about to get ugly. Gov. Schwarzenegger -- remember him? He's that actor guy who promised to save California, remember? -- is now set to lay off 10,000 state workers. He'll also now be forced to 275 more public works projects.

From the L.A. Times:
The projects, which include upgrades to 18 bridges and roads in Los Angeles to protect them from collapsing in earthquakes and cost $3.8 billion, had been allowed to continue operating as others were suspended because the state was running out of cash.

The projects to be suspended today had been exempted from a November order to stop public works because of the significant financial cost of canceling contracts, the expense of resuming them or the public-health or public-safety ramifications. The list also includes work to eliminate arsenic in the City of Live Oak and half-built highway construction projects.

Schwarzenegger had delayed sending out pink slips since Friday, hoping that lawmakers would soon approve a budget. But they failed Monday to find a third GOP vote in the state Senate to achieve the two-thirds majority needed to pass a budget -- a requirement that essentially gives the minority Republicans veto power. A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the layoff notices would go out today.

There's the real culprit -- That insane two-thirds majority rule. It's why we have budget stalemates every year. And why, ultimately, we wind up with a budget that no one's happy with. Indeed, we're one of just three states (Arkansas and Rhode Island are the other two) that require such a high bar to pass a budget.

Meanwhile, George Skelton notes that the Legislature members need to do the math: Unless the state cuts virtually everything to zero, a tax increase has to be part of the solution. And by the way, the pain is passed around enough that no one indeed will, or is supposed to be happy: $15.1 billion in spending reductions, $14.4 billion in tax increases and $11.4 billion in borrowing. Everyone's holding their nose -- but the alternative is even more foul.

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