YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Insane Brinkmanship

June 26, 2003

California is racing to fiscal chaos. In the lead are a few damn-the-torpedoes Republicans in the Legislature who refuse to consider imposing even a temporary half-cent increase in the state sales tax. The levy would be a fraction of the temporary tax boost a decade ago during the last budget crisis. The situation now -- with a shortfall of as much as $38 billion -- is far worse than it was in the early 1990s. Certainly there are GOP legislators who care more about saving the state from bankruptcy than purist anti-tax ideology -- but they are being held political hostage by a handful of leaders undeserving of the title.

The state is running on borrowed money as it approaches the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. The state has missed the July 1 deadline in the past with relatively little pain, but this year is different because of the sheer lack of cash and the inability to borrow more until a credible budget is passed. Emergency services such as the Highway Patrol and prison operations will continue no matter what, but other funding is already at risk, starting with state-financed day care and community colleges. Controller Steve Westly said Thursday, "This is a financially dangerous place for California to be."

The state Senate took up a new Democratic budget Tuesday with $11 billion in cuts in addition to significant reductions already in place. The only new tax was the sales levy, needed to finance the $10.7-billion deficit the state will have as of midnight June 30. Temporary new income taxes, which could have been the fairest way to get through the crisis, are off the table. Yet Republicans still will not negotiate a tax increase of any kind, even to finance debt.

The state -- largely at the urging of Democratic legislators -- did spend too much of the windfall from the high-tech bubble in previous years. But Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), the Legislature's dean, said almost all of the nearly $40-billion increase in annual spending in the last decade had gone to education, children's health care, prisons and tax cuts. About half the new spending came from inflation and population growth. "What is profligate regarding that?" asked Vasconcellos, who noted that most of the increases had GOP support.

There would be no deadlock if the Legislature could pass the budget by majority vote, as 47 states do. But the state Constitution requires a two-thirds vote. Thus, Sacramento is held captive by a tyrannical minority who put their political ideology ahead of the welfare of all Californians.

The Senate budget proposal failed on a party-line vote of 24 to 14, three votes short of passage. Democrats made another run at it on Wednesday, losing again by the same vote. The Assembly was expected to bring up another version today, with a similar result likely. That would put California one more step toward the unthinkable: the most affluent state in the union grinding to a halt because it ran out of money. Voters, business leaders, anyone with a stake in California, should not let it happen quietly.


To Take Action: Gov. Gray Davis (916) 445-2841, e-mail: Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (916) 445-1412 or, click "Burton" and "feedback." Senate GOP Leader Jim Brulte, (916) 445-3688, senator Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson, (916) 319-2047, Assembly GOP Leader Dave Cox (916) 319-2005,

Los Angeles Times Articles