In a pressure-cooker negotiation designed to erase the $14-billion-plus deficit, the Republican governor and the legislative majority leaders--Democrats all--are trying to agree on a package of new taxes and cuts to give California a new budget.
A deal is needed soon. A repeat of last year's debacle is to be avoided at almost all costs. That outrageously prolonged budget impasse was an embarrassment to California--and no doubt gave momentum to the term-limits initiative that was eventually approved by the voters.
A similar impasse this year could put California at serious economic disadvantage. Each week that new taxes are not collected and new cuts are not made increases the deficit and sends signals to the financial rating agencies that Sacramento may not be such a good credit risk. That could raise the cost of state borrowing and add to the red ink.
The fiscally prudent approach is for officials to act like adults and craft a compromise package. That's what Gov. Pete Wilson and the leadership have been working at. But that's not good enough for a small group among the 31 Assembly Republicans that constitutes enough of a block to gum up everything. In fact, little that is politically realistic is good enough for some in this group. They prefer a Draconian budget--no new taxes and many more cuts--that would tear the already frayed social fabric. We hope Wilson succeeds in bringing them to reason, but he may not. It could be that not enough members of this cadre are responsible enough to put the interests of all Californians above ideology. That, in Sacramento, is the growing fear.
The governor deserves credit for working hard to lure at least a few of these Assembly Republicans--uncharitably dubbed the "cavemen" in Sacramento--out of their ideological cave and into the real world. For his part, Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) has to calm down fractious Democrats who threaten to stake a claim for themselves as the "cavemen" of the left.
The hope is to have a budget agreement by the weekend. That may be impossible to achieve unless enough legislators abandon their agendas and return to responsible governing.