Their uneasy coexistence with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now at the lowest point in his tenure, Republican state lawmakers are rebelling in increasingly public ways over administration efforts both big and small.
GOP state senators refused Thursday to sign off on the administration’s request to pay for cost overruns in the state’s foster care system. Republican objections to Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year all but guarantee that the state will miss its Saturday deadline for putting a new spending plan in place.
Republicans also rejected three of the governor’s appointees for the board that oversees community colleges, and undermined his proposal for universal healthcare by requesting -- and making public -- a legal opinion that makes its political prognosis poor.
“In the past they would moan and groan privately,” said Tony Quinn, a Republican political consultant and a denizen of Sacramento since Ronald Reagan was governor. “It would be very rare that they would openly defy the governor.... He kind of ignores them, and they deeply resent that.”
As Republicans still reel over Schwarzenegger’s partnership with Democrats last year to enact curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, the governor is now championing a healthcare plan they say will be disastrous for the state’s economy.
Democrats, who propose spending more on healthcare than the governor does, are confident that they will be able to agree with Schwarzenegger on a plan that he will sign -- a plan unlikely to get a single Republican vote.
So Republicans are seizing on the few opportunities they have to throw sand in the Legislature’s gears.
Passing the state budget requires a two-thirds majority, which means some Republican votes are needed. But GOP lawmakers are balking at Schwarzenegger’s spending plan, which they complain is awash in red ink. A marginally more costly plan supported by Democrats is out of the question, they say.
“The governor, contrary to popular Sacramento mythology, has been growing government more rapidly than Gray Davis did during his administration,” said Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine). He pointed to a report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that projects a shortfall of more than $6 billion by next year under Schwarzenegger’s plan.
“What we are trying to do is exercise a modest bit of fiscal responsibility,” DeVore said.
The Republicans say they are acting on their convictions, not acting out. But their moves put the governor in a tough spot. Failure to enact a budget soon could jeopardize billions of dollars in scheduled state payments to vendors and schools. Paychecks to state workers could also come to a halt.
Public opinion polls have repeatedly shown that late budgets cause voter frustration with Sacramento, and regardless of who is at fault, the governor’s approval rating could take a hit.
GOP lawmakers also have been using parliamentary political tactics to undermine Schwarzenegger’s healthcare plan. A senior Republican in the Assembly, Rick Keene of Chico, solicited an opinion from the Legislature’s nonpartisan lawyers about whether the plan required a simple majority vote or two-thirds support to pass.
The legal opinion said the governor’s proposed assessments on employers, doctors and hospitals were taxes -- something Schwarzenegger had been disputing for months. The ruling made Democratic legislators even more reluctant to follow Schwarzenegger’s blueprint for a healthcare overhaul because tax legislation requires a two-thirds vote.
Administration officials say the governor is not taking any of it personally.
“Republicans are responding to their constituency,” said Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger’s communications director. “What is important is everyone is here fighting for what they believe in.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have been dispensing with the traditional legislative deference to the governor that even the Democrats display.
That was the case with Schwarzenegger’s request for $10.5 million for transitional housing for foster youths who had turned 18.
In past years, Republicans have approved far costlier requests to pay for cost overruns. And they agreed last year to expand the housing program. But in blocking the allocation Thursday, they cited growing costs.
“We’ve got to understand we have a huge budget problem,” said state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster).
Republicans are blocking another request from the administration, refusing to confirm three of Schwarzenegger’s nominees to the California Community College Board of Governors.
While sitting provisionally on the board, the three -- John W. Koeberer of Redding, Katherine “Kay” L. Albiani of Elk Grove and Rose Del Castillo Guilbault of Burlingame -- endorsed legislation allowing students in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges as long as they had spent at least a year in a California high school. Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure, SB 160, last year, but state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) is pushing it again.
State Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said the candidates “probably would have been OK” if they hadn’t backed Cedillo’s bill.
He said their actions showed they were too involved with politics and not enough with “fulfilling the mission of the community colleges.”
The appointees must leave if they are not confirmed after a year on the board. Koeberer, a Republican and a past chairman of the state Chamber of Commerce, had to leave the board Tuesday.
Guilbault has until October to win confirmation. Albiani, who already has served one term, has until January. GOP senators said they had no intention of voting to confirm either member.