If you’re the leader of the minority party, the last thing you want to do is declare yourself irrelevant. Yet that’s what the top Republican in the California Senate, Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, seemed to do this week in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. Dutton may be understandably concerned about going out on a budget-cutting limb — Republicans have been burned in the past for doing so. But his comments sounded more like someone unwilling to make the tough decisions he’s being paid to make.
At issue is the state’s daunting budget gap, which is expected to exceed $25 billion by the end of fiscal year 2011-12. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed to cut spending by $12.5 billion and, if voters approve, to continue $12 billion worth of temporary tax hikes due to expire this year.
Dutton told the Bee that voters won’t agree to Brown’s plan to delay the tax cuts, so Democrats should proceed now with a budget that closes the gap entirely through spending cuts. But even if Democrats go that route, he said, Republicans may not be on board. “They really don’t need us to govern at all,” he said.
Thanks for that clarification. The reality is that some Republicans will probably agree to put the tax extension on the ballot because they are just as reluctant as Brown is to slash the budget that deeply — a move that could force public schools to cancel six weeks of classes, among other unwelcome rollbacks in basic state services. But they’re not likely to unless Democrats come through with meaningful budget reforms, such as a spending cap and reduced public employee pensions.
That sort of negotiation is what governing is all about. So is the willingness to offer solutions, regardless of the political consequences. If Dutton or any of his colleagues from either party don’t recognize that, they don’t need to collect their taxpayer-funded salaries and daily expense checks. But that’s probably not the kind of spending cut Dutton has in mind.