What will a smaller state government look like? What if it is $24 billion-a-year smaller?
Those are the questions being debated in Sacramento these days. And no one is more important in that debate than Assemblymember Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo.
Blakeslee recently was elected minority leader of the assembly and from that perch he has the ability to block any budget the Democrats send his way. Should Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrats team up for a budget deal, Blakeslee still holds the power of the veto.
So far, Blakeslee is hanging tough.
He and Schwarzenegger pronounced as dead on arrival what amounts to a phony budget deal concocted by the Democrats to appease their more liberal constituencies. At another time, the majority’s plan to tax tobacco and make out-of-state visitors pay for parks would sail through, but the potholes simply are too big to be filled by user fees.
Those of us in the media sometimes are amused by this dance, dubbed the “Kabuki” by Gov. Schwarzenegger. But there is nothing amusing about spending the public’s precious money and wasting a lot of time on a budget that has zero chance of making it through to signature.
Controller John Chiang has warned that California will run out of money in a matter of days if a budget is not passed on time. Credit ratings for the state are in peril and the federal government has signaled correctly that it will not ride to California’s rescue at the expense of other states.
Whatever real budget fix comes out of Sacramento, assuming it comes before the state defaults on its debts, it will involve cuts that are dramatic, deep and likely long-lasting.
Will fixing the budget finally put California on a sound enough footing that it can stash a few billion dollars into a reserve when things turn around? Or will the cuts in services be so dramatic that the public turns and embraces some new taxes and user fees to restore what has been axed?
We do not know the answers to these questions. But if Blakeslee and his common-sense approach to politics prevail, then California will grope its way toward a balanced budget.
That, by itself would be a remarkable achievement. The only thing better would be to retire the “Kabuki” and get to work on a real budget for a real economy that’s mired in a deep recession.