As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Arnold Owes You

The IOUs are on the verge of being distributed. The Pooled Money Investment Board met today to hash out the terms for the IOUs, and surprise, there were some differences. The Governor wants a paltry 1.5% interest rate for the IOUs, and flexibility on repayment until as late as June 2010. That would be worse than a 1-year CD. Controller Chiang supports the staff recommendation of 3.75% interest rates and repayment in October. Chiang won. The board approved his terms.

The reason to offer a more attractive interest rate is to ensure that banks will actually cash them. Wells Fargo and Bank of America announced they will accept them, but only until July 10; after that, it's anybody's guess. Golden 1 Credit Union and Tri Counties bank of Chico also agreed to accept the warrants. This article gives a good rundown of how the IOUs will work. If your bank won't cash them, you're basically stuck with a piece of paper until October.

The most important question, of course, is why we're going down this costly route at all, when the Assembly and Senate Democrats fashioned a solution to avoid this. The answer is that the Governor wanted some leverage, the people be damned.

If the stigma of issuing IOUs triggers a budget deal in the coming days, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might find redemption in his strategy of quashing a stopgap solution that would have avoided those non-cash payments.

But if no budget deal emerges soon, Schwarzenegger will have helped saddle the state with a lower credit rating and have nothing to show for it.

As a negotiating strategy, Schwarzenegger is counting on public pressure to mount against the Legislature as California issues IOUs today for only the second time since the Great Depression. The Republican governor could have backed legislation to avert IOUs this week, but he demanded that lawmakers solve the entire budget problem, which grew Wednesday to $26.3 billion [...]

Schwarzenegger wanted a full budget deal, and part of his calculation was likely that IOUs ramp up the stakes and force lawmakers to reach that goal sooner. Without IOUs, he figured lawmakers might have delayed compromise on the rest of the package, costing the state in a different way.

"If he had signed the stopgap measures, the Legislature would have gone home for Fourth of July weekend and come back when the threat of IOUs came up again," said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at California State University, Sacramento. "I'm sure the governor went over this and thought: Are the consequences of the delay worse, and would he have lost the leverage that he has now?"

Well, this is a game played with people's lives. If banks won't cash IOUs, you can be sure Rite-Aid won't accept them. Or landlords. Or health care providers. In addition, this little power play cost taxpayers between $2 and $7 billion dollars, which I don't see Schwarzenegger going into his wallet to cover.

Rather than shock doctrine the legislature into making major policy changes as a condition of passing a budget, a more likely scenario is that this train wreck will spark reform efforts to finally get off this perpetual track of hijacking and stubbornness.

If California has become ungovernable, and teeters now on the brink of bankruptcy, it is due less to excessive spending than a deficit in democracy - the very essence of which is majority rule. A simply worded, one-paragraph initiative to restore majority rule in the Legislature might well prove resoundingly successful with a crisis-weary electorate. And while it may not be sufficient in itself to repair the state's balance sheet and fix its broken governance, restoring majority rule is the necessary first step toward ending gridlock, renewing public confidence, and preventing extremists of whatever stripe from holding future legislatures hostage to their own narrow agendas.

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