California Governor Edmund G. Jerry Brown's budget is a study in compromise: in order to balance the budget, he had to abandon the tax extensions that had been a centerpiece of his original plan, relying instead on some of the same tenuous maneuvers he had previously criticized.
The budget passed on time, something that is a rarity in the state, and on paper it closes a $9.6 billion deficit. But both Democrats and Republicans criticized the final outcome.
Brown's Democratic allies share the governor's grievance that sought-after tax extensions failed to garner the meager Republican support they would have needed to pass. Instead, the budget in place contains new projections that assumes the state will get about $4 billion more than previously anticipated in revenue and pares back money for the court system and the state's public universities. Democrats were less than enthusiastic about the result.
We have made decisions that we hate because there's less money and we have to do the best we can with what we have, said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. The minority party has sat on its hands, has sat on its pledges, and has refused to participate in governance.
If that extra money does not appear as planned, painful cuts to education and other state services will automatically kick in, another prospect that Democrats are unhappy with. Brown was also forced to adopt one of the gimmicks he had foresworn repeatedly, as recently as when he vetoed the original budget, dismissing it as not financeable for containing costly borrowing and unrealistic savings.
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For their part, Republicans condemned the extra revenue assumption, a mechanism that top Republican senator Bob Huff slammed as a wand that Harry Potter would be proud to wield. They also said the budget had failed to rein in public pensions, whose rising costs they say are unsustainable.
This budget fails to include any of the reforms that Republicans have been seeking since January - reforms that address our massive unfunded pension liabilities and reforms that reduce our regulatory [burden] so we can put people back to work and make sure that California businesses thrive in this state, said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Lake Forest. The budget before us is more of the same, kicking the can down the road.
Ulimately, the budget's success will come down to whether an economy showing signs of gradual recovery continues its slow, upward trends, replenishing the state's coffers.
The economy will ultimately determine whether Brown is a winner. If revenues increase as much as the Democrats hope, all will be forgiven, Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, told the Christian Science Monitor. If not, the cuts will be severe and hurt the Democrats' constituents much worse than the Republicans'.