Lack of negotiation holds up state budget

December 22, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Some observers say the gridlock in Sacramento is not as much about ideological differences over taxing and spending, but more about the art of negotiating, or lack of it.

The budget stalemate is now in its 47th day, with the deficit now topping more than $7 billion to date. Democrats are quick to cast blame on the Republicans, who refuse to vote for any tax increase. Without them, Democrats simply can't get the two-thirds majority required.

"Having that small minority to control the budget process I think is wrong. We need to relook at that entirely," says State Senator Leland Yee (D) from San Francisco.

Others blame the budget stalemate on term limits, which were enacted 12 years ago. The ballot initiative forced experienced negotiators like former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown to look for other jobs, allowing fresh faces to take the helm every couple of years.

"The leadership in both parties have been in the legislature for a while, they might have come to trust each other a little bit and get to the point where they can work together. They don't seem to be there right now," says Professor Alan Auerbach, Ph.D., from U.C. Berkeley.

"It should not be that hard," said Sean Walsh, a former gubernatorial aide.

Walsh, who worked for Governors Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, says neither the two-thirds rule nor term limits are the problem. In fact, Walsh says getting a two-thirds majority is not as daunting as it sounds. Just two Republicans from the Senate and three from the Assembly are needed to break the gridlock.

"Find out what those members want, and then say, 'This is the program.' You lean it, you skew it, you build it up so those members have a lot more power. And so their priorities and their cuts are done, and that's enough to get you over the top," said Walsh.

Until then, Former State Finance Director Tom Campbell will be offering legislators his idea of a partial solution -- an 18 cent temporary gasoline tax.

"The price of gasoline has now fallen in our state. Last June it was about $4.60. If you were to put on a gasoline tax of about 18 cents, so we'd still be well under two dollars a gallon," said Campbell.

As legislators hammer out ideas -- state financial officers are looking at ways to cope during this budget crisis. One possibility is to issue IOUs to state contractors until a deal is reached.


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