It's clear that there will not be a permanent fix right now for the chronically hemorrhaging budget. There will be another patch job.
Schwarzenegger has offered a specific plan. But he would completely eliminate the state's main welfare program, which benefits 1.3 million people; kill the Healthy Families program that provides medical insurance for 930,000 children; and phase out the Cal Grants program of college scholarships. He'd also grab -- "borrow" -- nearly $2 billion from strapped local governments. Democrats won't buy any of it.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) asserts that Democrats already have agreed to $37 billion in program cuts in the last nine months. "Enough's enough."
But the governor and Democrats alike have inserted enough one-time accounting gimmicks into their plans to make a Ponzi schemer wince.
And that makes the Democrats' point: The bottomless deficit hole isn't immediately repairable in a way that's politically palatable. Forget more major tax hikes during a recession or ripping up the safety net as more people lose jobs.
Realistically, the budget can't be permanently fixed without significant reforms. They include updating California's tax structure to make it less volatile and more steady in good times or bad. Also, realigning the relationship between state and local governments to relieve Sacramento's financial burden and give the locals more power and revenue.
All that's being worked on, but it can't be done in six days.
There's an adage in Sacramento that a late good budget is better than a bad on-time budget. But how would anyone know? For too many years, budgets have been both late and bad.
This year, any on-time compromise would be better than a state meltdown. If needed, do a patch job every month. Just keep the cash flowing -- and hasten the reforms.