California's budget crisis is still barely crawling toward a resolution, and even lawmakers seem to be in the dark on its progress. As pressure from citizens and special interest groups continues to mount, Republican and Democratic representatives alike are beginning to point fingers at who is to blame for the sloth-like progress towards a viable solution.
The ultimate solution looks to be firmly in the hands of the so-called "Big 5" -- a group comprising Governor Schwarzenegger (R), Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass (D), President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D), and Senate and Assembly minority leaders Dave Cogdill (R) and Mike Villines (R), respectively. With two Democrats, two Republicans, and one very moderate, environmentally conscious Republican governor, the committee is nearly split evenly down party lines.
These top lawmakers have been meeting due to the failure of the Republican and Democratic legislators to pass this year's budget by a two-thirds majority. The group aims to secretly hammer out controversial deals in order to conjure up supporting Republican votes.
Jenesse Miller, a representative for the California League of Conservation Voters, is appalled by what she referred to as "dirty politics."
"The democrats have come up with stimulus proposals . . . [of] three billion dollars in green projects, which are going to create jobs and that are not going to create a dangerous precedent with [governing environmental agencies and regulations]," argued Miller. " If [Republicans are] going to give up on their ideological bloc"--alluding to anti-environment, pro-construction sentiments--"then they'll want to go to their supporters and say 'look what we have got.' Things fought very hard for are being traded away in order to get a handful of Republican votes on the budget. It's a very cynical approach to politics."
But Sabrina Lockhart, press secretary for Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, insists that the closed-door meetings are solely to ensure job creation, which republicans feel would not have been created with the initial budget proposal.
"Republicans have been pushing for policies that will grow and protect jobs in our state. There is indeed a nexus between jobs and a functional state," said Lockhart. "The bottom line is that during this historic economic downturn we need to ensure that jobs are created."
What is no secret is that the two parties often disagree on where funds should be allocated to stimulate job growth. California Democrats often back investments in the environment by way of green technologies, while Republicans want higher tax cuts and a lessening of business regulations, which are arguably some of the most stringent in the nation.
Yet the real question that lies behind this emergency meeting of the Big Five is how did legislators let it get so far as to result in sacrificial back-door deals?
"We are paralyzed at this juncture, we have been unable to address any other issue, we cant go forward," said Rocky Rushing, a representative of Democratic Senator Ron Calderon. "Under this environment everyone is going to give something, no one gets out unscathed. Once we get this budget settled we can begin to look forward and get California back on track."
The meetings are reported to be costing California taxpayers $1.5 billion a week due to statewide overspending, and will continue to increase unless a budget is passed.
Miller partially blames the two-third majority vote, a rule of "super majority" seen by very few states--including California--which she said was passed with good intentions, but is now causing too many problems.
"The reason voters have wanted [the 2/3 majority] is because it makes people think that legislators are going to have to work together," said Miller, "but a few state legislators are using this super majority . . . and taking advantage of it. It's like an Eisenhower era of solutions. It strikes a lot of people as dirty politics."
If there is one thing both sides can agree upon it's that IOUs for taxpayers and others that the state owes money to are an unwanted outcome that will be avoided at all cost.
"We believe that taxpayers should be entitled to what they're rightfully due," stated Lockhart.
Rushing concurs: "[IOUs are] a symbol of a failed system and of politicians who put ideology before their constituents."
Rumors circulating around the State Senate suggested an outcome to the budget standstill by this weekend or by early next week.
"If I put a $100 bill in the state's funding jar every time I heard that one," joked Rushing, "we'd be out of the budget crisis by now."
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