The state Legislature took the weekend off, acting like tonight’s midnight deadline for finalizing a state budget is nothing. The Senate and Assembly remain where they were five months ago -- deadlocked on how to finance the current $11-billion deficit and unable to pass a workable budget for the next fiscal year. A Democratic ploy Friday to debate a Republican budget plan descended into accusations that it was a trap to discredit GOP ideas. With the shortfall topping $38 billion overall, lawmakers who ought to be terrified are locked in unproductive political combat. Here are ways to shake off the paralysis.
* Look northward. In Oregon, schools closed early, 100,000 poor people lost health care, courts locked their doors on Fridays and criminals went free. A prominent economist in the state says, “What we face is a disaster.” Multiply that several times and you have what is bearing down on California.
* Stop the blame game. Republicans say they aren’t responsible for solving the budget mess because it’s the fault of Gov. Gray Davis and Democratic lawmakers. Democrats say their increased spending was all justified -- mostly on popular programs such as education, health and public safety. Quit whining, all of you, and do your jobs.
* Increase the sales tax. A temporary boost of a half-cent on the dollar would finance just the $11-billion deficit from this fiscal year. Republicans can’t demand spending cuts only -- $13 billion in additional cuts on top of the pending $18 billion. That would cripple education and health care, which would hurt business far more than a half-cent sales tax. Democrats should quit proposing new programs and comb state spending to get rid of partisan irritants. Start with the $114,000 post on the state Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board given Thursday to the 80-year-old father of a Davis contributor. Davis and Democrats cannot claim to be protecting the states’ most defenseless while pulling arrogant stunts like this.
* Use the solutions at hand. There are four proposed budgets before the Legislature that close the deficit and make billions in cuts but still maintain essential state services: Davis’ plan, the Senate and Assembly Democrats’ separate proposals and the bipartisan compromise by Assembly members Keith Richman (R-Northridge) and Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg). They’re all painful but credible. Start there.
* Think temporary. This is an awful period for California, but both the inevitable deep program cuts and extra taxes will fade when the overall economy recovers.
* Commit to structural fiscal reforms that will eliminate the built-in deficit in future years. Give the job to a special legislative commission sponsored by Senate Leader John Burton (D-San Francisco).
* Remember the state’s position. Its economy would still be the world’s fifth- or sixth-largest if California were a nation. It is fueled by business services, exports and imports, entertainment, tourism and agriculture. Imagine what will happen to this diverse bounty if the Golden State slips into fiscal disrepute, even bankruptcy. Lock the doors to the legislative chambers until there’s a budget. No catered carry-in meals.