As the stalemate over the budget continues into its seventh week taxpayers are troubled over mischaracterizations in the mainstream media about who is responsible. The negative attention is focused on Senate Republicans who are being portrayed as the obstructionists. But viewed fairly their position is both reasonable and mainstream. They want to see a balanced budget — rather than saddle future generations with a massive debt load — and they want to ensure that the $42 billion dollars of bond financing for infrastructure just passed by voters last November is actually spent on infrastructure. Moreover the position which these Senators have taken is neither an attack on the needy nor an effort to undercut existing environmental protections.
Although the budget passed by the Assembly reflects some progress towards fiscal responsibility the Senate should make it better by reducing spending by at least another $700 million dollars. Taxpayers remain concerned about billions of dollars of unrealistic assumptions in this budget revenue that almost certainly will not be there when we need it. This includes: not accounting for a $600 million revenue shortfall in May and June and an overstatement of property tax and tribal gaming revenue among others. Even with a balanced budget it is not inconceivable that our structural budget deficit could increase by billions of dollars heading into the next fiscal year.
Lawmakers who are looking after the taxpayers’ interests are also trying to clarify the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in order to ensure that overzealous politicians cannot inhibit the will of taxpayers. Last year the Legislature passed AB 32 a bill that set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Using this law as a base Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a CEQA lawsuit earlier this year against the County of San Bernardino saying that its General Plan fails to take into account AB 32 greenhouse gas standards. The only problem is that these standards have yet to be developed. This means that billions in bond proceeds could be bogged down by mind-numbing litigation between the state and counties resulting in nothing more than taxpayers suing taxpayers. Senate Republicans have proposed a reasonable solution that says that these lawsuits cannot be filed until greenhouse gas standards are set.
The response of some Democrats and the media has been to parade out environmentalists to claim falsely that Republicans are trying to "roll back" CEQA. Such Chicken Little fear-mongering from the far left obscures the main issue and guarantees that more tax dollars will be wasted fighting phantoms instead of providing direct benefits to Californians.
The argument that the CEQA clarification has little to do with the budget is not compelling. Taxpayers have the common sense to understand that $84 billion worth of bonds (after interest payments are included) are at risk here. Insistence that the bond proceeds be spent effectively is little different than desiring to close a $700 million operating or a $5.3 billion structural budget deficit.
Equally lacking in intellectual honesty is the suggestion that the majority party has taken the moral high ground when it comes to the impact on the disadvantaged caused by the budget stalemate. When the Senate met to take up the budget on August 1st Senate Republicans made motions that would have balanced the budget by making $800 million worth of cuts (AB 191) and making a separate emergency $10 billion appropriation to fund needed programs during the budget impasse (AB 207). Democrats voted down both motions. When put to the test to see how much they really cared about the poor and disabled individuals they claim to care so much about they failed. What’s more Senate leader Don Perata revealed the disingenuous nature of all that "sky is falling" rhetoric. Right after these votes he adjourned the Senate for three weeks. The "obstructionist" Republicans on the other hand have said that they are ready willing and able to meet for ongoing negotiations.
The budget impasse has given rise to the predictable calls to strip the Republicans of their veto power over the budget. How? By changing the Constitution to permit passage of the budget by a simple majority rather than the two-thirds vote currently required. Indeed the Sacramento Bee on August 9th yet again called for just such a change.
But what Republicans need to understand is what the voters think. Voters were given the opportunity to eliminate the two-thirds vote requirement less than four years ago when Proposition 56 appeared on the ballot. It wasn’t even close. In an extraordinary slap down 65% of California voters rejected the idea.
Yes we all want a timely budget. But most Californians are aware that the tendency of the ruling political class is to spend money the state simply does not have. Taxpayers who pay the bills find that the current death spiral of debt we are leaving for future generations is more offensive than a tardy budget.
Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.