Cavala: Know When To Fold Em

Posted on 29 July 2009

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towashington 089.gifBy Bill Cavala
A veteran of over 30 years in Sacramento

Progressive blogs and columns have generally been venting against the Democrats and their leadership in the Legislature for the budget accommodations made to stop the flow of red ink and state issued i.o.u.’s. The general argument is based on the premise that by hanging tough (er), some cuts could have been avoided and increased revenues might have been successfully demanded.

Wishful thinking

The fight for revenue increases was effectively lost when the Governor and the Republicans were successful in depicting the defeat of the various ballot measures – especially Prop. 1A – as a referendum against taxes. While various parties argued, even spent advertising money, trying to alter the context to the effect of cuts, the media basically ignored that perspective, made it a dispute over higher taxes or not, and conceded to the Governor that “no new taxes” meant an all-cuts budget was necessary to save the state from bankruptcy.

The lack of public pressure (union parades in the Capitol have years since been discounted by lawmakers and press) combined with the need to involve Republicans because of the 2/3 requirement and the need for a signature gave the Democrats no real hand to play. Holding a gun to the head of Democrats by threatening the very existence of social service programs, the Governor was able to force changes in law otherwise unthinkable by the Majority Party.

When the Assembly finally balked at selling California’s coast to oil interests, the Governor made up the savings with more social program cuts and the elimination of any funds for individually earned public employee raises. Williamson Act cuts will pit
Agricultural district Members against Coastal Members. Cuts in HIV programs and Black Infant Health are pitted against environmental concerns about off-shore drilling.

And, at the end of the day, the Democrats in the Legislature are likely to view avoiding these new cuts as more important than the oil drilling fiasco.

Nor is this likely to be the end. The various payment deferments, new tax cuts that go into effect next year and tax increases that end in the near future make any different scenario dependent on revenue increases brought about by the end of this recession. If the recession doesn’t end – which appears to be the case over the next fiscal year – then expect more in the way of cuts and extortion.

None of this is going to change until two things happen. First, a successful effort to pass a ballot measure that eliminates the need for a 2/3 vote to pass appropriations. Second, the election of a Democratic Governor who will obviate the need for a 2/3 vote to over-ride vetoes.

Without those changes the GOP will continue to hold all the cards.

Bill Cavala was Deputy Director of the Assembly Speaker’s Office of Member Services where he worked for over 30 years. He attended undergraduate and graduate school in the 1960’s and received a doctorate in political science at UC Berkeley. He taught political science at UC Berkeley during the 1970's while he worked part-time for the State Assembly.

Cavala left teaching at UC Berkeley for Assembly Speaker Willie Brown in 1981 until his tenure as Speaker ended in 1995, and he has worked for his five successors as Speaker. He now manages election campaigns for Democratic candidates.