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Yes, They Do Always Vote 'No' on Budget

July 12, 2003|Evan Halper | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As legislative leaders search for ways to break a frustrating budget impasse before California runs out of cash this summer, they won't be turning to eight or so Republicans -- members of a group proudly and consistently committed to voting "no" when it comes to state spending.

They are Sacramento's most stalwart conservatives, lawmakers who promise to vote only for a budget that would veer far, far to the right of anything that stands a chance in this overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.

They came here with one overarching goal: to reduce the size of government. They consider their refusal to compromise a badge of honor.

"It's my 11th year in the Legislature and I have yet to vote for a budget," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Riverside). "I've never voted for one. I've got 10 'no' votes."

Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who has served 17 years in the Legislature since 1982, hasn't voted for a budget in more than a decade. He complains that even the budgets that fellow Republican Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law "spilled red ink from one year to the next."

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy (R-Monrovia) is part of a dynasty of budget no-votes. He's winding up to vote against his third budget, continuing well into its second decade a family tradition that started with his father, Richard, a former longtime legislator.

"They say the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree," said the younger Mountjoy.

They all cite specific things in various budget proposals that they abhor. The most often mentioned is state funding for abortion services. Taxes being too high is a close second, followed perhaps by the billions of dollars of debt the state has taken on.

Many of those criticisms are shared by their colleagues in the Republican Party, who as a group deplore the spending increases of recent years. But those who vote against the budget year after year represent the edge of that critique -- the toughest advocates of their deeply felt philosophy that government is just too big and too involved in areas where it does not belong.

"They are red-state politicians who find themselves in a blue state," said Jack Pitney, professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College and author of books about conservative Republicans. "California public policy has been turning in a liberal direction for close to a decade. Voting against the budget is one way of registering their dissatisfaction."

The lawmakers say they are so offended by the way state money has been spent that give-and-take negotiations are out of the question. Some say they will gladly vote for an Assembly Republican plan now on the table, but only if it is not altered to include a penny more of spending, and the recently enacted $4-billion vehicle license fee hike is immediately repealed.

Political oddsmakers say such a budget stands almost no chance, because Democrats, who hold the commanding majority in both houses, as well as the governorship, will not back it. In California's landscape of "safe" political districts, these Republicans are rewarded by voters for their firm stand.

"They can't imagine themselves individually having any retaliation for being obstructionist," said Gary Jacobson, a professor of political science at UC San Diego. Jacobson notes that the districts these Republicans hail from are so conservative that doing whatever they can to shrink the size of government trumps all else -- even as the public statewide demands that lawmakers compromise and get a budget passed.

"From their perspective it is a costless thing to do, but it probably isn't costless for the party as a whole," Jacobson said.

In their search to peel off Republican votes for state spending, Democrats have long since gotten used to the unyielding determination of these conservative lawmakers. Before budget negotiations had even gotten underway, party strategists had counted them out of any possible solution; they have looked elsewhere for the eight Republicans they need to approve a spending plan to meet the constitutionally required two-thirds majority.

"They are irrelevant," said Assemblyman Joe Canciamilla (D-Pittsburg), who has worked with moderate Republicans in search of budget solutions. "You know they are always going to be 'no,' you know they are always going to be negative, you know they are not going to be useful. So they are irrelevant and I think they shortchange their constituents."

The no-voters don't see it that way, although they acknowledge their votes have inhibited their ability to bring state projects to their districts.

"The only thing you get for voting for a budget is pork," said Haynes. "I'm a small-government guy.... I don't believe in running around and cashing in whatever chit I have to make government bigger."

Haynes recalls that in headier times the Legislature's appropriations committees used to hold "member request days," on which lawmakers would ask for specific projects for their districts. He quickly realized he wasn't welcome.

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