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GOP bottom line

The governor needs to exert some discipline and break the budget free of an internal Republican squabble.

August 10, 2007

State Senate Republicans are locked in an ideological struggle with their own governor, but neither they nor Arnold Schwarzenegger can bring themselves to acknowledge the conflict openly. So, in an act of transference that Freud would have appreciated, they are directing their wrath at a totem: Jerry Brown.

The madness may be terminal for the 14 senators whose tantrum has pushed the world's eighth-largest economy deep into the fiscal year without a budget. They are miffed at Schwarzenegger for cutting them out of talks that led to last year's landmark agreements on a bond package to rebuild California and legislation to make the state a leader in the fight against climate change. So now the senators appear intent on undermining both achievements.

They, of course, deny it. In their delusion, they insist that they're actually protecting last year's infrastructure bond package by rejecting any budget that doesn't limit the reach of the California Environmental Quality Act. See, their old nemesis Brown is enforcing the CEQA by requiring local governments to show how their growth plans will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They argue that counties will have to fight Brown in court and use up the bond money that was supposed to be spent on new roads and rail systems.

That's crazy. Even if Brown were acting precipitately, bond money can't be used to fight the attorney general. It's an irritating if somewhat suppressed irony that the Republicans themselves are derailing transit projects with their deep spending cuts and transfers of gasoline sales tax revenues to the General Fund.

Schwarzenegger too has sent signals that he wants Brown to back off, and he may even support a law to limit the attorney general's power to sue to enforce carbon limits under the CEQA. But the governor shows better prospects for recovery, and for the sake of California, we'd all better hope he gets well soon.

He is too meek in criticizing his party's lawmakers for holding up a budget over a non-budget issue. It's time for him to rediscover his inner Terminator by knocking together some GOP heads and reasserting his role as leader not just of the state but of his political party. This is a party, after all, that claims leadership in fiscal responsibility but is itself $4.2 million in debt. Its future lies with Schwarzenegger's vision: demonstrating fiscal responsibility, taking leadership on the environment and building for the future.

Instead of going after Brown, Schwarzenegger should assert his place atop California's GOP and put his formidable fundraising skills to work aiding those Republicans willing to line up behind him on the budget -- and terminating the hopes for higher office of those who insist on making the state's economy a fiscal basket case.

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