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Legislature Votes on Budget – No Progress Made

By Vernon Billy - September 2, 2010

On Tuesday, both houses of the California legislature voted on the Governor’s May Revise, as well as the more recently proposed Democratic alternative.  As expected, neither proposal garnered enough votes to be forwarded to the Governor for consideration.

The votes in each house were essentially split along party lines. Capitol insiders call these types of votes “drills,” because it is understood beforehand that there is no bipartisan agreement, and therefore the budget proposals will not reach the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

So why put these budget proposals up for votes?

Some legislators and legislative staff believe it allows the legislature to show the public that they are actually trying to pass a budget.  At the same time, a vote provides both parties with an opportunity to publicly layout their positions on the budget proposals.

The other main component to the budget negotiation process involves the so-called “Big Five” meetings between legislative leadership and the Governor.  In prior years, these meetings have proven to be critical to reaching a budget deal.  Thus far this year, these “Big Five” meetings have reportedly been few and far between since the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1st.

Some big budget roadblocks continue to be connected to a relative handful of overarching issues.  For example, the Governor has been demanding, among other things, that the final budget agreement be accompanied by some type of state pension reform.  He believes pension reform is critical to managing the state’s long-term fiscal situation.

Legislative Democrats, on the other hand, are pushing for revenue generating solutions as part of the new budget in order to maintain state services and help preserve jobs.

Republican legislators, on the other hand, are expressing opposition to tax increases, while calling for sizeable cuts to state programs, including education funding in order to balance the budget and force the state to live within its financial resources.

As of this writing, it is unclear when the state will finally have an approved budget in place.  Some political pundits predict a budget will be approved in November as part of a potential “special session” that could be called by the Governor.  Conversely, the Governor has suggested in press reports that the budget dilemma may drag out into the beginning of his successor’s first term.

Unfortunately, the lack of a budget impacts all Californians in some fashion -- particularly schools.  The ongoing stalemate may force the State Controller to begin issuing IOU’s to vendors and state employees.  And just recently schools experienced the first major effect of not having a fiscal year 2010 budget in place – the announcement that state government would defer an additional $2.5 billion in school funding.

In the end, the budget process and negotiations are fluid, and could actually result in a budget compromise at almost any point. While the timeliness of the budget is important, the substance of the budget is even more important. It is this substance that should keep educators motivated to continue to advocate for no further cuts in funding to schools. 

Stay tuned.

Editor's Note: Vernon M. Billy is president of Governmental Solutions Group, LLC (GSG) a Sacramento-based consulting and legislative advocacy firm. GSG serves public and private education organizations, non-profit organizations and private sector companies.