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

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

California, Where Only Republican Concerns Matter

It looks like the Governor and the Legislature have resolved the issue over prison reform in the budget by setting that piece aside as a separate issue to be decided later.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger defused an issue today that threatened to blow up a fragile compromise over the plan to erase the state's $26.3-billion budget deficit.

Instead, Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said both houses would vote on the plan Thursday night - but without an element that would prescribe details of a $1.2 billion cut in spending on prisons. A vote on that part of the plan will be delayed until next month, the leaders said.

"Everything's on track," said Steinberg, after he and Bass met privately with Schwarzenegger in his office. The governor popped out after the Democratic leaders left to dismiss the issue as just one of "some hiccups, and some obstacles and bumps in the road ... there will be some difficult moments, but the bottom line is we are going to get this budget done."

I see, so a plank of the budget that involves policy changes will be put off until another time.

Gee, that doesn't seem to be the accommodation made for privatizing the welfare enrollment process. Or enacting measures like background checks and fingerprinting for IHSS clients and recipients. Or drilling at Tranquillon Ridge. Or selling the State Compensation Insurance Fund. Or the lobbyist-fueled deal to extend redevelopment projects and borrow against the funds. All of those are huge policy changes, some of them unrelated to the current budget, that reflect mainly conservative perspectives. They must be passed now, now, now, but because Republicans threw a fit and distorted the intent, a pretty modest (though necessary) prison reform part of the package, with savings of $1.2 billion dollars, gets delayed.

These dead of night budget deals and the disproportionate urgency placed on them are fruits of a poisoned, horrible broken process for determining budgets in this state. It's why everyone with a brain considers this not only a bad deal but one we'll have to revisit in a few months anyway.

And this is what we're talking about when we talk about the shame of the Democrats for giving in on virtually every part of this negotiation, without exception, and for failing to show the leadership for thirty years necessary to stand up to a broken process and actually do something about it.

In most public schools expect larger classes, fewer counselors and librarians, and a slimmer menu of arts classes and athletic programs -- and maybe a tighter array of courses generally. More subtly, the quality of all services, from graduate programs at Berkeley to the condition – and maybe the safety – of the neighborhood park will decline. Will any of those things – and there are countless more – bring the realization that you can’t have a great state, or maybe even a decent one, on the cheap?

What’s badly wanted here is political leadership with courageous enough to talk about that link and not celebrate surrender to the anti-tax fanatics of the right. In this current budget deal, the Democrats got a few face-savers on education funding and welfare reductions, but in the end, despite all the nervous smiles, they lost.

The New York Times today writes that a "pinch of reality" has threatened the California dream. Yet the political leadership still live in dreamworld, seemingly satisfied with the broken structure of government, confined to a short-term strategy and a political process that works for them as individuals but for none of their constituents, and just unable to operate against a minority the public hates but which runs circles around them. We have deferred that California dream for so long that it may be unable to get it back. But without a functioning democracy, and with a majority leadership that has practically abdicated responsibility in the face of a conservative veto, you can be sure of that proposition.

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