Budget Crunch Time-Who is asking the tough questions?

All eyes will be on the California Senate Wednesday as they are back from a few days hiatus while the Republicans have been challenged to put up a budget of their own. With a put-up-or-shut-up challenge by President Pro Tem of the Senate, Don Perata, the Reps were sent back to the drawing board to propose their own budget after they refused, en masse, to approve the deal the Assembly had passed with bipartisan support, and lobbed over to the Senior Chamber last week.
So what can we expect will happen? The deal that was struck by both sides in the Assembly has been narrowed down as follows: (For other Speak Out California stories on this, scroll down to the Budget section under “Archives” part-way down on the left-hand side of the page)

Provides kindergarten through Community Colleges with just enough new money to meet the cost of living, but that’s all. Anticipates a 7 percent increase in student fees for University of California students and 10 per cent for Cal State Students. No new taxes for the rich, but an additional tax on our students!
Suspends any cost-of-living adjustment to needy families for the third year in a row and delays grant increases for five months for over 1 million poor Californians who are aged, blind or disabled.
Shifts $1.3 Billion designated public transit funds to maintain other programs that would otherwise be cut.
Criminal Justice and Drug Treatment:
Reduces funding by $40Million for these already underfunded programs for nonviolent substance abuse offenders.
Tax cuts for corporations:
A big surprise and a shameless pandering by the Reps. to their campaign contributors, a series of tax breaks for the very largest corporations and tax breaks for movie and TV production companies totalling about $600 Million per year was passed almost as an afterthought by the Assembly. (As discussed below, this deal isn’t going anywhere, but just serves to highlight who the Republicans care about).
Hidden in the debate is a nasty little effort by the Republicans to curtail efforts to enforce greenhouse gas emissions standards (global warming issues) on local governments. For more on this last minute effort to indulge Big Developers, check out Kassie R. SIegel’s piece in the California Progress Report.
But the stalemate has a much more fundamental core, much more than the cuts and shameless attempts at further tax cuts for the wealthy corporations that were passed by the Assembly but were DOA in the Senate. The real issue is whether we’re ever going to have an honest discussion about just what the people of California want by way of services and whether they’re willing to pay for them.
At some point we have to come to grips with the reality that we aren’t willing to pay for what we want, yet we want it anyway. For a pretty candid assessment of the situation, check out Dan Walters article in the Sac Bee, click here. For the Reps its put-up-or-shut-up time, but for the people of California, it’s time we called the problem what it is and see the true dilemma that politicians avoid addressing: Californians want high performing public services but low taxes. In other words, we want to have it all but not have to pay what it costs. We want a Cadillac at Chevy prices.
And speaking of cars, Walters correctly points out that the reason we have the deficit we do now is because of anti-government rabble-rousers like Senator McClintock who led the charge to cut the VLF (or as he effectively but inaccurately describes as the “car tax”) a theme that Schwarzenegger used to ride into office. If not for this additional $4 Billion hole created by the Governor as his first act as our state’s chief executive, we would be fiscally sound and not having to play games with education dollars or denying meager additional funds to our most vulnerable people.
The irony is, that rather than confront this problem, the public looks only at the number of days it is taking to get the budget deal made. There should be alot more discussion on what the public expects and what they’re willing to pay for. That’s the harder conversation and one that neither the public nor the politicians want to address. It’s much easier to simply make a deal and go home. It’s easier to count the number of days it is taking than what it takes to do it right.
We’ll see what the Senate decides to do. My bet is on the expedient approach, with little debate on the bigger, more difficult picture. Will we end up just counting days or asking tough questions? The public wants it done NOW, but putting off for tomorrow what we desperately need to discuss today will only continue the agony. Most likely, we’ll be having the same conversation at the same time next year…..and every year therafter until we’re all prepared to tackle the problem head-on. Helmets, anyone?