Come back, GOP
In Sacramento, California Republicans -- real Republicans, the ones who used to stand up for fiscal responsibility -- are becoming scarce. There was a time, not too long ago, when the state’s GOP lawmakers would engage with Democrats to craft sustainable spending plans that helped the state pay its bills without simply pushing its problems onto future generations. But as Republicans veer toward endangered-species status in the Capitol, in terms of raw numbers, those who remain appear to have rebranded themselves. The prior insistence on fiscal conservatism has been replaced by a willingness to accept fiscal chaos -- as long as taxes never go up.
Govs. Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson, among others, guided the state through difficult decisions to raise taxes when the budget demanded it. To be sure, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between those old-school fiscal-responsibility Republicans and the newer no-new-tax-ever brand, because a principled conservative who insists on the state paying its bills on time and adding only what programs we can afford will, more often than not, reject higher taxes as unfair to residents and damaging to economic growth. It is debatable whether either the higher income taxes demanded by Democrats to balance this year’s budget or the temporary sales tax increase floated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger are appropriate.
But the fact that it is debatable is just the point. There is a debate to be had, and California needs its Republican lawmakers to join in. If there are $15 billion in program cuts that won’t simply transfer costs to next year’s budget or further into the future, let’s hear about them. If there aren’t, then Republican lawmakers must confront tax increases as a prudent step, just as they must acknowledge that much of the state’s current problem stems from the unwarranted reduction of the vehicle license fee that swept Schwarzenegger into office.
There are alternatives, and they aren’t pretty. The state could eliminate its two-thirds vote requirement for approving a budget. There would be some sense in that; it is a threshold shared only by two other, quite small, states -- Arkansas and Rhode Island. But that would leave Democrats with sole power to dictate budgets and taxes, and even fiscally responsible Republicans wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Or Democrats could continue their slow march toward capturing two-thirds in the Assembly and the Senate, leaving the same result. Republicans, please come home -- before it’s too late.